Local pub sector has a new lease on post-pandemic life

Pubs in villages and suburban settings proving popular with lessees

Demand for pubs in suburban and village locations remains strong in 2023, with city centre venues also ‘bouncing back’.

That’s the opinion of Star Pubs & Bars operations director for Scotland, Matthew Dyson, who said suburban and village pubs have ‘performed particularly well coming out of the pandemic’ as customers looked to socialise closer to home – and in many cases continue to work from home at least a few days a week.

Interest in city pubs was said to be recovering, with prospective licensees interested in Edinburgh and Glasgow properties in particular.

The strength of community pubs was reinforced by Chris Jowsey, chief executive of another pub company, Admiral Taverns, who said the company is ‘starting to see pubs thrive again with local communities having a greater sense of appreciation for their community pubs’.

“The cost of living is obviously a big worry nationally, however, in our estate we are seeing customers visit their local community pubs more often and favouring this over an expensive visit into town, which is great to see.”

On the customer side, ‘maximum value’ was the biggest factor influencing which outlets people visit, with Dyson pointing to ‘a great environment and an experience they can’t replicate at home’. “Location is also playing a part,” he said.

“During the pandemic, people turned to their local pub for the kind of experience they’d previously have travelled to a city centre, restaurant or higher end venue to find, demanding more premium and unusual products as well as dishes and drinks, such as cocktails, that are harder to prepare at home.

“The trend has continued as a greater number of people work from home at least some of the time.”

Transport has become another major factor, said Dyson, with regular disruption of train services, a lack of night buses and fewer taxis making trips away from home more difficult.

The cost of these forms of transportation has become another prohibitive factor as the cost of living continues to soar.

Looking ahead to the latter half of the year, however, Dyson reckoned events including the Women’s World Cup, Rugby World Cup, Halloween and Christmas are likely to help coax customers from their homes.

“Pubs are having to work harder to drive footfall in an environment where consumer discretionary spend is challenged,” said Dyson.

“Our research shows customers are prioritising planned occasions, sports and celebratory events over more impulsive occasions.

“Creating awareness and building experience and atmosphere around big events is therefore super important.

“We’re investing more than ever in support, such as free point-of-sale, digital assets and promotions to enable our pubs to make the most of them.

“The high levels of take up we’re getting demonstrate how keen pubs are to make the most of every occasion this year in order to attract pubgoers out of their homes.”

The Rugby World Cup was also one of the key events highlighted by Jowsey at Admiral taverns.

He said: “Whilst the summer provides a great trading opportunity for pubs across the UK, the Scottish football season is starting shortly which should increase footfall, whilst also utilising the outdoor space for some of our pubs.

“For example, we recently invested into the Florida Park in Glasgow, which is part of our wet-led operator division, Proper Pubs, to install a brand new garden for football fans, as it is located next to Hampden Park, Scotland’s National Stadium.

“As well as Christmas trading, we also look forward to the Rugby World Cup in September which again should provide a brilliant opportunity for pubs to bring people together, cheering on their home nation.”