How to make the most of your hotel bar

A weekend away from home is a time to relax and a quick drink in the hotel bar is a way for many guests to unwind from the stresses of everyday life. But with so many pubs and bars around the UK competing for your guests’ custom, it is important for hotel bars to come up with a successful strategy to keep them in-house instead of straying into the nearest town.

Understanding your audience and offering your guests a bar experience that complements the hotel are essential to its success.

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Appealing to audiences

Understand the audience of the hotel and the drinks that are the most popular with them is crucial – it will often make sense for a hotel in the countryside to sell more traditional drinks such as ales and wines, whereas a city hotel may want to take a more contemporary approach offering flavoured cocktails and spirits.

To stay on top of these popular drinks, changing with market trends is vital for many hotel bars. In recent years this has been particularly true with the rise in fruit cider sales. According to market research outfit Nielsen, in the past year sales of fruit cider grew 66% to £229m, accounting for 24% of all cider sales in the UK – a huge 16% increase from a year ago.

“We’ve found, in the last couple of years, that especially with the younger people fruit ciders go down very well. Because of this we have introduced fruit cider on tap which is selling very well,” says Kate Robinson, bar manager at the Brockett Arms, Hertfordshire. Adapting to these market trends and bringing in more fruit cider whether in bottle or tap form can suddenly and significantly improve the revenue for the hotel bar.

Yash Dhiman, food and beverage manager for Smiths at Gretna Green in Dumfries and Galloway, believes that it’s important to focus on the younger generation: “The younger generation spend a lot on drinks, and they have a particular taste for fruit ciders at the moment, hotel bars need to make the most on what sells well.”

This also true for the growing ale market. A report by Marston’s found that premium bottled ale market is growing at a faster rate than first thought and has the potential to be worth £1bn by 2020. The category has delivered a 12% growth in both volume and value against the overall beer market, which is growing 3.2% in value. Alex Goodall, bar manager at the Tweedies Bar in the Dale Lodge Hotel, Cumbria, believes that offering a unique ale is a major factor for the revenue of its bar. “Our real ales are our most popular drink,” he says, “[and] being CAMRA [Campaign for Real Ale] accredited is a major pull for our clientele as they are looking for something different to what they could buy through retail channels.”

A welcome treat

Despite the recession, many hotel bars report having been relatively unscathed by any drop in sales in their bars. While food and beverage managers are reporting that customers are more “conscious and selective” when it comes to price and choosing their drink, it isn’t hitting bars as hard as you might think.

“Spending time away from home, whether it’s a trip to the pub or a weekend away is a luxury and people want to make the most of it,” says Goodall. With hotels around the UK providing a getaway for their guests, it comes as no surprise that hotel bars have been relatively unaffected – the guests are in spending mode and part of that relaxation ritual (certainly in the UK) is the get a drink in the evening. Venturing out of the home to ones local is not quite the same consumer behaviour.

It seems that when people are away from home, they’re not scared to splash the cash in order to get a well-deserved treat. Dhiman says: “It boils down to personal taste, we’ve had a brilliant year this year and also the year before even though we were in a recession. We’ve done extremely well in terms of selling, from expensive bottles of champagne for £425 all the way down to shots, it all comes down to what people want as opposed to how the economy is doing.”

Making a splash

But it’s not all champagne and cocktails for the hospitality industry: hoteliers still need to make an effort to keep their bars fresh and appealing, or they may just find their guests going elsewhere for that afternoon tipple. With the rise in popularity of the ‘selfie’ (a photo taken on a smartphone using the front-facing camera) and social media marketing, it’s easier than ever before to get your name out there and make your hotel bar just as popular as the hotel itself.

Dhiman says that social media marketing is key to the bar at Smiths at Gretna Green. “Being social savvy [sic] on the internet is extremely important. People will often take selfies and post them on social media which helps market our bar and we often get people come here and show us the picture and say ‘my friend had this cocktail, are you selling it today?’”

Hosting events can also help to increase revenue for your bar. The Brockett Arms sometimes shows sporting events on TV, offering themed ales which Robinson says go down “very well”. On the other hand, hosting community events can also make the bar experience more fun and enjoyable for the hotel guests, as the Dale Lodge Hotel has discovered. “We host weekly quiz nights and also have live music on both Friday and Saturdays which is a major pull for residential guests as well as locals and we generally see a 25% increase in profits those evenings,” says Goodall.

It’s clear that hotel bars remain reasonably unaffected by the economy but with some extra help from marketing, community events and knowing what drinks to stock, the hotel bar can be easily transformed into a good source of revenue, if it isn’t already.

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