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Blue sky thinking: how pubs can boom in the summertime

With the sun shining, new figures have revealed a 4.8% annual increase in like-for-like sales made by pub and restaurant groups. We assess the industry's growing potential to cash-in on the good weather.

You only have to walk down the street to realise that Brits don't miss a chance to enjoy the sun - as soon as the cloud clears and temperatures soar, everyone rushes for the parks and pubs. It's a standard reaction that's pretty much ingrained in the nation's collective psyche.

New figures released by the Coffer Peach Business Tracker demonstrate the point, because they revealed that June saw a 4.8% annual increase in like-for-like sales among the UK's restaurant and pub groups.

As Big Hospitality reported, the jump followed monthly rises in April and May, and further evidence of the hot weather boost can be seen throughout the industry. For example, the pub operator Young's recently announced that, in the first 13 weeks of its financial year, the pubs it manages saw a 10.7% leap in sales compared to the same period in 2012.

Given that winter lasted for what seemed like an eternity, we shouldn't be surprised that even lukewarm temperatures sent everyone outdoors - and pub gardens throughout the country have been packed out in recent weeks. Drinking and sunshine go together like fish and chips - that's just the way it is.

Good times

Clearly there's a strong commercial link between summer and certain drinks that branding experts have already done a good job of establishing. The lion's share of the work has been done for pub owners, so all that remains is to seal the deal

This isn't the first time we've covered the fortunes of Britain's pubs on this blog - previously we've looked at challenges facing landlords, as well as potential ways they could drive business.

The latest figures would suggest that the sun is a pub's most powerful weapon, although unfortunately scientists are yet to develop a machine capable of dictating the weather. Needless to say, it's still going to be up to landlords to draw customers through the doors when the summer starts to fade.

Still, there's no need to worry about that just yet. More hot weather is predicted and it's important to seize the here and now. That means taking full advantage of the sun.

Clearly there's a strong commercial link between summer and certain drinks that branding experts have already done a good job of establishing. Pimm's, for example, evokes a sunny feel-good factor, while numerous cider brands offer seasonal ranges built around associations with hot weather.

For pub owners, the simple tactic here is to push the summery products as much as you possibly can. Marketers have done the lion's share of the work for you, so all that remains is to seal the deal.

Let's take it outside

While winter tends to make customers gather at the bar in search of heat, summer is the time when they clamber over each other to get back outside and into the sunshine.

The issue here is space. Not every pub has a vast garden, but you've got to make the most of what you've got. Check where your customers can and can't position themselves in relation to the premises, and take some time to mark it out in an appropriate way. If you do have a garden, let people know with a prominent sign outside the pub.

There are other things to think about too - no matter how small your garden, make sure it caters for people who'll want to both stand and sit. If possible, create a makeshift bar outside - if customers can buy drinks more easily and comfortably (without having to step back into the stuffy indoors) you're more likely to sell in higher volume.

Ready, steady, cook

Eating is a major part of the al fresco pub experience, and with a higher volume of customers you may want to consider simplifying your menu, building it around summer favourites. Setting up an outdoor barbecue has at least four benefits: you can tempt people into eating by "selling the sizzle," you can turn over orders more quickly than usual (and therefore sell more food), you can get very attractive margins on the food you sell and you can minimise the work that needs to be done in an oppressively hot kitchen. If this is something you've never done before then look into what's required to offer your customers the option of a burger or two.

These may seem like relatively simple suggestions, but they're the solid foundation you need to make sure you're going to cash-in on summer. In reality there are endless promotional possibilities, but at risk of overloading you with suggestions of Hawaiian-themed nights and beach parties, I'll leave you to build on the basics.

Image credit: Gui Seiz