This was prompted by the question of pub branding and what benefits it brings. The financial difficulties of Punch Taverns have been widely reported recently, and it’s noticeable that Punch, while they may have some managed brands within their estate, do nothing to put their name over the door. This seems a rather odd way of doing business and reinforces the frequent charge that pub companies of this kind are basically about financial engineering, not retailing.
Branding works on the obvious level of allowing you to identify an establishment with a particular style of menu and drinks offer wherever you are in the country, but it also operates in a more subtle way to reinforce people’s perceptions through news and general conversation. You may in practice only ever visit one branch of Tesco, but you still get a good idea of what Tesco are all about. Pubs more than most other types of businesses are very much dependent on a particular combination of geography and opportunity to attract customers, but even with that if you have a recognised brand you have won half the battle of letting people know what it’s like before they venture over the threshold.
Most of the pub brands around are ones like Chef & Brewer and Brewer’s Fayre which are very much related to dining – Wetherspoon’s are about the only non-brewing company who have sought to develop a common brand identity across a whole estate that are much more than just dining pubs. While the buildings do differ, as do the clientele, all of them have a very similar style and effectively the same offer. So far they have done very well with it – you always know where you are with a Spoons – but there is the risk that if public sentiment turns against you it can rapidly snowball, which would not be the case with a more heterogenous estate. There is also supposed to be something of a reaction against corporate identities, but I’m not sure how much that percolates though to the average Spoons customer.
While it is less so now due to the drop in the number of pub-owning family brewers, it was always the case that most independent brewers had a distinctive house style, so that while their pubs did vary you usually knew if you were in a Brakspear’s or a Holt’s house without needing to look at the pumps on the bar. This remains very much the case with Sam Smith’s even though, ironically, they don’t put any sign of ownership on the outside of their pubs.