Changing pubs and bars – slowly

Changing pubs and bars

For the last nine months, Club Soda has been working on a little side project with pubs and bars. It all started with an observation we made: many Club Soda members complained that if you don’t want alcohol, there’s never anything to drink in a pub. When we spoke to some pub managers about it though, they said that there’s no demand for non-alcoholic beers or post soft drinks, so they don’t bother putting them on their menus. Clearly there was something going wrong somewhere, with these opposing opinions out there.

More welcoming to non-drinkers

So we partnered with charity Alcohol Concern, and got a bit of money from Hackney council to run a little pilot project. The question we wanted to answer was: “How can we encourage pubs and bars to be more welcoming to customers who want to drink less alcohol or none at all?”

Some of our members took part in our first workshop for this project last summer, to start coming up with new ideas for pubs and bars to improve their ways. We’ve also already shared some of the findings from our mystery shopping experiment.

Bar Fridge with Soft DrinksPub experiments

Since then, we’ve also held another workshop, this time with pub and bar managers. We’ve done an online survey, spoken to dozens of people from soft drink makers to council licensing experts. And we did some proper experiments with a few friendly pubs in Hackney. The experiments included buying boxes of non-alcoholic beer (Nanny State – the Club Soda favourite!) and nice ginger beer, and promoting them in pubs to see how many customers are tempted to try them, instead of their usual tipples.

And what have we found out? Lots. We have written a full report about the project, which we will publish shortly. We also have lots of pictures of pub and bar fridges – you can see one specimen here, with the soft drink offer on display!

We want to send out a few key messages to the three groups of people involved with our research: customers, pub and bar managers, and local authority council, especially their venue licensing teams. Our messages are:

To customers

  • Don’t panic at the bar. You are the customer, take your time and make sure the staff show you the full range of drinks.
  • Ask for low-alcohol and non-alcoholic beers and wines. See what non-alcoholic drinks they can make you from their cocktail ingredients. If you are a regular, ask them to stock your favourite.

To pubs and bars

  • Paying more attention to your non-drinking customers is good for business, and serving a better range of non-alcoholic drinks is good for all your customers.

To councils and licensing

  • Nobody really understands what “promoting sensible drinking” means. It would be good to clarify this, so that pubs and bars can actually do something.

And what next? Well, from our work so far we’ve got even bigger ideas for this year! And we’re happy to announce that we’ve got a new partner for the second part of this project: Blenheim is a London-based charity who are very excited to work with us. And Hackney council are very kindly supporting us again this year, in our quest of changing pubs and bars.

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