Give Your Pub a Makeover

Victorian beer engines.

When we’re sitting in a pub, we spend quite a lot of time talking about what what works, and what could be improved. We know, however, that many publicans have little cash at hand and that their options are often limited by the terms of their lease. Nonetheless, we think there a few things that more pubs could be doing which are free, or at least very cheap.

1. Ditch the net curtains — we want to see into a pub before we enter it. Unless there really is something illicit going on, they block the light and our view, and gather dust.

2. Tear down tatty posters — whether they’re your own or put up on behalf of local community groups or clubs, posters quickly curl, rip and fade. Take down old ones regularly, even if they are confined to a noticeboard. (2b – political posters of any description will probably alienate 50 per cent of your potential customers.)

3. Sweep up outside – crisp packets, pasty wrappers, leaves and fag ends on the pavement outside and in the doorway give an impression of abandonment and decay.

4. Smile and say hello as a matter of policy – other than great beer, the thing that makes us feel warmest towards a pub is a friendly greeting from the person behind the bar when we walk through the door.

5. Identify a ‘unique selling point’ — which pub doesn’t offer a ‘friendly welcome, real ale, good food’? You can’t rely on those to help potential customers decide between your pub and the nearby King’s Legs. So, be specific: name the real ale you are selling; mention that your famously wonderful chicken and leek pie is made to your grandmother’s recipe; big up your collection of comics, vintage photographs of the town, sports memorabilia or board games.

6. Control the crowd — you can’t make your regulars smile at people, but be prepared to have a quiet word if they’re downright rude. Regulars are already regulars; newcomers are potential regulars, and need looking after.

7. Get a fresh pair of, er, nostrils – we have been in some very smelly pubs that would benefit from a shake’n’vac, but you’re in the pub all the time and might be immune to its ‘perfume’. Get someone you trust to check the place out and let you know if it needs airing and/or a squirt of deodorant.

8. Get online – Twitter and Facebook are great ways to promote not only your latest offers but also your ‘brand’. If you’re resilient enough to take it, online is also a good place to find frank feedback from bloggers, Tweeters and reviewers, perhaps highlighting easy-to-fix problems you didn’t know your pub had. (See nostrils, above.)

9. Details make a difference – we notice little things like beer mats and coat hooks. They don’t cost much, but they’re extremely convenient.

10. No such thing as too much product information – some pubs have small glasses of each beer in front of the pump so you can see what colour it is before your order. Others have ‘point of sale’ material from the brewery at hand so you can read about the beer. Chalkboards, inside and outside the pub, are great ways of explaining and selling what’s on offer. Having said that…

11. Tidy signage, tidy pubyou don’t have to design your own font, but take a little time to make sure your chalkboards are neat, consistent and fresh-looking. At the same time…

12. Avoid corporate – unless a pubco or brewery insists otherwise, try to minimise the amount of branded or off-the-shelf bumph on display. Menus printed at home on A4 usually look ten times better than wipe-clean, glossy ones, covered in stock photography.

13. Do what you can with the bogs — you might not have the cash to completely renovate and, yes, customers, especially blokes, can behave like animals, but, as a bare minimum, have soap and water.

If your reaction to this is a bitterly sarcastic ‘Aw yeah, I hadn’t fought of dat!’, then we might well quite like your pub.

18 thoughts on “Give Your Pub a Makeover”

  1. Does the Royal Oak have net curtains? If so, I can’t say it’s an essential part of the appeal.

  2. Another one is, if you serve food and are in a location where there are potential customers walking past the door, to display your menu outside the door. It’s no good just saying “wide selection of freshly-prepared food”.

    We don’t tend to get net curtains up here too much, but personally I prefer frosted glass to clear windows, for urban pubs at least. Sometimes you feel like you’re sitting in a goldfish bowl with people gawping in from the street.

    Too many blackboards give the impression of having been written by someone who’s been on a blackboard-writing course, and it’s a bad sign if they don’t change for weeks on end.

  3. Number 9. Coat hooks. I agree 100%. Absolutely the cheapest and best-value upgrade a pub can have. Put them all along the front of the bar, under every table, and on any available vertical flat surface.

    After spending much time in Czech pubs, I am utterly gobsmacked back here in the UK that there’s so often nowhere to hang a coat/handbag, for the sake of a 50p coat hook, and my girlfriend just loves finding that her bag was sitting in a lake of beer (see beer mats!) because she couldn’t hang it under the table.

    1. Ah, yes, I think we might have seen you Tweeting about this and agreed strongly. Part of the problem here, of course, is the fear that someone’s horrible anorak will get stolen and they’ll sue the pub.

    1. We had sticky tables in our first draft, as it happens. Decided that really was a bit obvious, though it is a problem in lots of pubs.

      1. The only actual thing I can thing of to disagree with the post is that I wouldn’t say “do what you can with the bogs” I’d say “actually make sure they are are nice even if it costs money” because that I think is a big difference between a nice boozer and a dump. If I wouldn’t stop for a shit, I wouldn’t stop for anything else.

        Cleanliness in general is more important than decor for me. I really don’t want to drink or eat somewhere dirty.

        You are right that it obvious, but a pity that it so often doesn’t appear that way.

        1. Point of fact.
          Having cleaned up in my pub every night for three years I can honestly say the women’s bogs were just as bad as the gents.
          Okay, some of the bints were dog rough but they spent big money on long necks and alcopops so I had to forgive them.
          I’m rather surprised you don’t mention pubs with TV’s permanently on Sky News and/or The Racing Channel.

  4. “TV’s permanently on Sky News and/or The Racing Channel.” That is another good one. How about deafening music that only the bar staff seem interested in?

    1. I was once driven out of a pub in Stockport – the Armoury, for those who know it – by the music, which was pretty much Father Finton Stack’s kind of thing. None of the punters looked keen (I was one of the younger people there) and the bar staff were obviously trying to ignore it as well. Very odd.

    2. “Deafening music that only the bar staff seem interested in,” All too common in many pubs, and sadly it’s more often the female bar staff that are at a fault here.

  5. I quite like pubs with Eastenders on quietly in the background. That’s a proper community pub in its own way.

    My favourite is when a group are quietly watching the cricket world cup or something and the manager insists on changing it to spanish football or some other such dreary nonsense despite the fact that no-one in the entire pub is interested..

  6. I like it when a pub has a rack of newspapers to read. Sometimes a well placed selection of newspapers can help turn a ‘just passing-through’ pint into a lazy afternoon session.

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