Opportunities amid challenging times

Pubs can showcase all that Scotland has to offer, writes Barclays’ Jamie Grant

Pubs are a big part of British culture and for the past year going for a pint has been off the cards. With pubs operating again in Scotland things are finally starting to look up. The pent-up demand for socialising with friends outside of the home provides an engaged audience with some money to spend on drinks poured by someone else.

It has been a hugely troubling time for operators who will have felt helpless throughout the pandemic and there are still so many challenges ahead. The forced pause gave busy publicans an opportunity to reassess their business models, something that can fall further down the pecking order when it is business as usual.

With so many rules around operating, pubs have had to adapt quickly. Minimising contact via app ordering and card payments has sped up the migration to a cashless society.

This in itself brings opportunities and challenges. Card payment operators can provide access to a rich seam of data to mine, helping operators to better understand their customer and further tailor their offering.

The downside to the uptick in tech lies in the fact the interaction feels purely transactional and customer experience is lost.

In an industry where tips form part of the payment proposition, many are concerned that less interaction, and a reliance on card payments, will have a negative impact as people aren’t reaching for cash to express their gratitude for good service.

Conversations between front of house staff and diners provide opportunities to highlight specials and upsell, something operators will be looking to do at any opportunity.

The answer, as always, probably lies somewhere in the middle: to offer an efficient and memorable service which relies on both humans and technology.

Last summer, the vast majority of pubs and restaurants worked to a reduced menu for operational simplicity but it became clear this is neither compelling nor competitive.

Fresh, locally-sourced ingredients are something customers want on menus and operators have reassessed their supply chains in the face of the pandemic and Brexit, making local supply chains more attractive than ever.

With pandemic-related blocks on most international travel and increasing demand for environmentally-friendly holiday destinations, staycations are here to stay. Never before has there been such a captive audience so willing to explore all that lies within its own borders.

Pubs in honey pot tourist locations are in a brilliant position to showcase all that Scotland has to offer and those that deliver a good experience will enjoy ripple effects for some time.

The challenges this sector has faced cannot be overstated but with every trial there comes an opportunity.

The pandemic has reinforced that no one is alone and there is support out there. Your funding partner should be an extension of your community, close to your business and the hurdles you face. This partner is there to plug the gap on darker days and ensure you are in a position to realise your dreams and capitalise on all the opportunities that are brewing as life resumes.

  • Jamie Grant is head of corporate banking for Barclays in Scotland.