If you’re a wet-led pub mainly used by regulars, with a static beer range, then having an internet presence is unlikely to make much difference. But if you want to attract new customers to try your beer and food, or enjoy live music and special events, then in today’s world it becomes increasingly important.
The biggest single failing is not keeping your sites and accounts up to date. Arguably having blatantly wrong information is worse than having none at all. I get the impression that many pubs pay outside developers to create smart-looking websites for them, but are then left with no means of updating them without going back to the developer. The ability for the pub staff to change basic information such as hours, beer lists and menus is vital.
It’s important to concentrate on getting the basics right before trying anything too ambitious. A decent pub website should include:
- Opening hours
- Clear directions on how to get there, including by public transport if available
- Information about disabled access and whether children and dogs are welcome
- Contact details – phone number, e-mail address and Facebook and Twitter accounts if applicable
- Regular beer range
- Information about guest beers (although in a pub with high turnover a few highlights should be sufficient: a comprehensive list isn’t needed unless you are a ticker magnet)
- Standard menu – including prices
- Daily specials, or the latest menu if it changes daily
- Straightforward photos of the interior and exterior of the pub
Above all, the information given must be accurate and up to date. Martin Taylor has complained several times of being misled by inaccurate opening hours on his travels, and if you’ve decided you fancy a particular dish on a menu, you may be disappointed if it’s no longer there when you arrive. If you go to the website on the 27th of November, and you see a headline message about a steak night that was held on the 14th of October, then you will really be unimpressed.
It can be amazing how long some pub websites linger on in the afterlife. Back in 2010, I reported how the website for the Old Bull’s Head in Little Hucklow, Derbyshire, was still there, and sounding quite appealing, even though the pub had then been closed for five years. At least it has now disappeared.
Facebook and Twitter are easier for the non-expert to pick up than creating a website, although I would say initially Twitter can be a touch confusing and counter-intuitive. If possible, it’s best to entrust pub accounts to a member of staff who is already an active user of these platforms and so has an understanding of how they work and of interaction with other users. If someone says “oh no, it’s Thursday, got to update Facebook again”, they’re unlikely to make the most of it.
Try to keep the account regularly updated with information about guest beers, new products, menu specials and live music sessions. A few pictures of staff members are good, and pub animals such as cats and dogs will always grab people’s attention. On the other hand, pictures of drunk customers are a complete no-no.
Avoid overdoing it, though, as the same thing posted every day for a week is very offputting. Regurgitating corporate promotions will just give the impression you don’t have a mind of your own and, while adding the occasional quirky observation about current events adds a touch of originality, even if you genuinely believe Iain Duncan Smith is literally murdering the poor, it’s doubtful whether all your customers will agree.
If you use Facebook and Twitter, make sure you interact with customers and respond quickly and politely to genuine questions and comments. It’s no good just checking the account twice a week. If someone makes a complaint about poor food or service in the Dog & Duck, and there’s no reply, it will quickly spread across the internet.
And, as said at the start, do not allow your web presence to wither on the vine. It’s better not done at all than stuck in a timewarp. The Great Western in Wolverhampton is one of my all-time favourite pubs, but its Twitter account is rather forlorn.