Friday, 27 November 2015

Better never than late?

I recently looked up the Facebook page of a pub that I’ve liked in the past, but haven’t visited recently. I noticed that the page had been updated just five times over the past four months. That’s far better than some, but even so it indicates a very half-hearted approach to social media, something that is unfortunately common to many pubs. By coincidence, this is a subject that the Morning Advertiser has raised this week in a piece entitled Analogue licensees unfit for digital age.

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
Too often, a few moody shots of food dishes or backs of chairs are provided which give no impression of what the pub is like. Also, pictures of a crowd of gurning regulars holding up pint glasses at some presentation aren’t going to appeal to the casual customer. An attractive design is important, but it shouldn’t be too fussy for its own good and navigation should be clear. It helps not to give the impression that the site was designed in 1996, though.

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.

11 comments:

  1. Excellent points.

    When visiting a pub outside of weekend evening hours, I'll always check their web sited first, as so many pubs seem to have abandoned lunchtime opening. Opening hours seem to be an afterthought in some cases, and I end up phoning up to check. Better not to bother at all than be half-hearted.

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  2. @martin - I was trying to find your blogpost where you'd had a problem with this in Derbyshire, but didn't manage to locate it.

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  3. I just took a look at the website for the Gresley Arms, which you mentioned on Seeing the Lizards.

    Pretty good overall, although I can't find the opening hours anywhere, which are important as, according to WhatPub, it doesn't open until 3 on Monday to Wednesday.

    Also no mention of snacks, sandwiches or desserts on the menu.

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  4. You've hit the N on the H. If the beer they're serving is as fresh as their website all should be good. But, as you say, all too often they languish like forlorn poppies on car radiator grilles in the middle of July.

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  5. Yeh, you're bob on Mudge. A lot of small independent businesses can misfire in any number of ways. Web presence and accurate up to date information is one of them.

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  6. I'm surprised that pubs don't use a blog, such as Blogger. Free and simple to use, and you can use the blog element to advertise any special events and announcements, and the static pages for opening hours, regular events, menus, beer lists, etc.

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  7. @Nev - yes, but YOU HAVE TO KEEP IT UP TO DATE!!!

    See the blog for the Bag'o'Nails, the famous and thriving Bristol "cat pub".

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  8. Same applies to CAMRA branch websites! Which was one of the reasons I mooted the importance of websites these days with Facebook being able to do most the stuff mentioned above. Of course, not everyone is on Facebook whereas everyone who has an internet connection can open a website so that's a blocker... although you don't need an account I think to see a public Facebook page.

    But yes, keeping stuff up to date is vital which is why whatever system is chosen must be easy to use from a variety of devices these days.

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  9. One also needs to mention WhatPub here which is slowly becoming one of CAMRA's greatest achievements but is at risk of imploding if we can't keep the information fresh and up to date. The current system doesn't make this as easy as it could be.

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  10. @Mudge - I mentioned the pub in Alrewas with a prominent A-Board displaying food hours on 21 Oct; I'm always banging on about pubs cutting mid-week lunchtime hours (particularly Fridays).

    By the way, that pub at Alsagers Bank was a classic. First time we tipped up at 10.50pm (4 hour drive from Cambridge) and denied a drink despite "open till midnight" advertised. Restrictions like that ought to be clear.

    @Rob - exactly right regarding WhatPub

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  11. Spot on, both about pub websites and The Great Western, though the GW is probably well enough known to do without online prescence- but as you say, maybe that should be what they should do.

    Much better would be The Wellington's presence which includes 2 Twitter accounts, including one for the resident cat.

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