Thursday 31 July 2014

Pubs and reviews - strategic thinking in 2014

This article was prompted by a tweet....

Fair enough, you might think; well done for encouraging trade. But wait: this pub is right slap bang in the middle of one of the most popular tourist cities on the planet...

So we embarked on some research: we visited a dozen pubs in the area at lunchtime and the results came as a major shock: they were all experiencing the same marked lull in trade. We spoke to managers and they all confirmed that it 'was the same every summer'.

Let's recap...
  • 12 pubs within walking distance of major tourist attractions (museums/art galleries/shops)
  • All great pubs (great atmosphere, good food offerings)

So what are pubs doing wrong? 

It can't be the prices or the hours lunch is available that's putting them off

Not on Google or any of the pubic sites

On a Thursday in July we sent our researchers to all the 'dining' pubs within 500 metres of the Science Museum (an area which also happens to contain the V&A, the Natural History Museum, the Albert Hall and about 12,000 of London's hotel rooms). What we found was profoundly shocking: in the pubs surveyed - all between 1 and 2 pm - there were an average of 5.4 people dining; and from pubs with dedicated dining facilities with seating for an average of 50. That's the potential to feed over 700 people at a single sitting, and they were feeding less than 60. Nearly all of the pubs surveyed keep their dining rooms open 12pm-10pm, so we have to assume they are actively looking for lunctime dining trade.

To make the point in another way: all the pubs between the Kings Road in Chelsea, through South Kensington, right up to Kensington Gore are feeding less than 100 people for lunch on a Thursday in July.

If we assume that tourists are not specifically avoiding the great London pub, there has to be another reason (the chain restaurants in the vicinity of each of these pubs - and in the same price bracket - were packed out). 

Imagine for a moment that you are a tourist: you have just staggered out of the Victoria and Albert Museum (or one of the dozens of hotels within walking distance) and you want lunch. You have heard of that great British institution, so into your smartphone you type 'pub South Kensington', let's see what you get...

We did the same exercise for 'pub Oxford' and the results were so similar as to be indistinguishable, so it's not a problem unique to West London

The average Google score for the top six pubs listed is 3.7, which in terms of any subjective judgement of rankings is truly awful*. It is enough to put any self-respecting tourist off, even before they persevere far enough to read some of the prominently displayed negative reviews...
The top six reviews - would you eat there? We visited this pub, it was nearly empty at 1 pm on a Thursday, and there was nothing wrong with either the service or the food. The mistake this pub is making is allowing its online reputation to be dominated by half-a-dozen dissatisfied customers

The solution

Pubs have some wonderful resources when it comes to getting great reviews...
  • Regular customers 
  • Diners

Both these categories are fertile ground when it comes to getting reviews. Invite regular customers and email diners. If you aren't already collecting email addresses, start today:

  • Get their email when they book over the phone
  • Hand them a card at the end of the meal and ask them to fill in their email address and collect it before they leave
  • DO NOT hand them a card asking them to write a review - it does not work
  • When you have their email address send them an email including a link to your G+ page (or TripAdvisor page once you have enough reviews on Google*, 50 is a good first target) asking them to write a review

We are not saying this is ALL of the solution (pubs could try introducing menus in popular tourist languages** for a start - we didn't find one), but it must make business sense.

And finally: TripAdvisor, Foursquare, Urbanspoon, Yelp (for anyone doubting that tourists want 'the London pub experience' just check Karla S's reviews) and other specialist sites:  focus on these after you've cracked Google; it's Google that comes up on phones and all research shows that if a business doesn't look good there very few people will bother to research it any further.

*To be really successful at attracting trade you should be aiming at a Google score of 4.7/4.8. Anything less than that will mean you either lose trade to competitors (and these can be any other business in a similar price range, not just a better ranked pub) or the the prospective diner will feel the need to mine down into the individual reviews, where you run the risk that they will be put off by an individual negative review (see above).

A score of 4.5 - 4.7 is a good initial target, but anything less than that (and certainly anything under 4.0) and trade will drop off considerably.

**Most foreign tourists (with the exception of Germans at 64%) do not speak/read English (34% of Italians, less than 1% of Chinese). The top non-English speaking tourists are: French, Germans, Spanish and then the Italians.

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