While brands are a statement of quality and consistency in the restaurant and pub trade, operators that are able to give each of their locations a different personality are especially well-placed to provide their guests with a memorable experience.
“We’re not a chain, we’re a collection of pubs,” says Mark Reynolds, co-founder of the London-based Three Cheers Pub Co. “It’s important we maintain the individuality of each of our pubs.”
Established in 2003 by Reynolds and his school friends Tom Peake and Nick Fox, Three Cheers recently opened its ninth location, the Bedford in Balham, south London – a mainstay of Britain’s grassroots music and comedy circuits.
The ability to offer something a bit special is becoming a more and more important attribute for hospitality businesses.
Increasingly, customers are seeking distinctive and memorable experiences. This is known as the ‘experience economy’, and business is booming. According to Barclaycard research, spending in this area is rising much faster that overall consumer spending.
The rise of social media culture has fed into the experience economy. People share their experiences digitally, connecting with others through the way they choose to live. The tendency to curate personal lives on social media means that people need a constant supply of experiences, and pubs and restaurants are well-placed to provide this, so long as they offer something that is tangibly different and worth sharing.
Unique charm and features
With each Three Cheers pub possessing a distinct charm, as well as features ranging from boutique bedrooms to picturesque gardens, the process of finding a site has been far from formulaic for the group. “All the pubs are different in their own right. We look at each pub’s location to work out exactly what we’re going to do with it. Having said that, there is a thread that runs through them. The history, the size and the location seem to determine what you do with them.”
Host of London’s longest-running comedy club and a launchpad for the careers of household names such as Michael McIntyre, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, the latest site in their stable, the Bedford, isn’t lacking in the history stakes. The famed entertainment venue flung open its doors in late November after a multimillion-pound revamp, becoming Three Cheers’ newest venue and the second opening for Six Cheers – its managed investment partnership with pubco Ei Group.
“The Bedford is very entertainment-led,” Reynolds explains. “There’s live music and comedy, there are five different bars and four different function room areas where people can have private parties. It lends itself to being a destination pub.”
Pub to the stars: The Bedford
While celebrating the site’s history as a mainstay of British music and comedy, Three Cheers has pumped in excess of £1m into the Grade II-listed site. “This has been a very big financial outgoing for us. If you’re dealing with a listed building then you’re dealing with the council and with listed building consent – it’s a very expensive undertaking."
"We’ve tried to strip it right back and restore it to what it used to be. We’ve found old oak panelling that brings out the character of the pub, while ensuring it meets the demand for unique experiences required by the customers of today.” With a 250-person capacity, The Bedford boasts a state-of-the-art £80,000 sound system and 15 individually designed bedrooms.
“The industry continues to reinvent itself,” says Reynolds. “Pubs have to adapt. They can’t just get away with selling good food and good beer and wine – they have to offer the customer more. The customer wants an experience. They can now come to the Bedford, have some supper and a couple of drinks, they can then watch comedy for an hour and a half and then dance to a DJ until two in the morning and then go upstairs and stay in one of the fantastic bedrooms. Suddenly you’ve taken popping down for a pint and turned it into a full evening of entertainment.”
The ‘experience economy’
There’s been a lot said about the ‘experience economy’ in recent years, and Barclaycard research suggests that this trend is more prevalent among younger demographics. For example, pop-ups, which tend to offer a unique or unusual experience, proved to be particularly popular for people aged under 34.
This suggests that pubs and restaurants can potentially attract younger customers if they offer people something out of the ordinary. Furthermore, Barclaycard consumer research shows that more than two thirds of diners (68%) believe that the experience of dining out is as important as the meal itself, so it’s important for operators to look at how they can improve the overall customer experience and offer people something new or unique.
There has been a trend for new bars and pubs to centre their offering around a particular experience or activity, such as darts or crazy golf, while others try to offer quirky menus or unique entertainment. The aim is to keep customers entertained, and to give them a fun space for socialising while they order food and drink. And, of course, the longer they stay, the more they’ll spend.