It had to happen sooner or later. In 2010, for the first time in history, more than 50% of UK adults shopped online (IMRG survey, April 2010). To any self-respecting 21st century publican, this will, I am sure, come as no surprise. Ebay, Google and Facebook were words yet to be invented a few short years ago, but now you can hear them peppered amongst the chatter in pubs up and down the land.
But while many publicans enjoy extra customers and profits day after day from the internet, some in the trade still see the web as a cost rather than a source of profit, and there are still a few die-hards who ignore this potentially very lucrative revenue source completely.
It is easy to understand why some publicans are jaded when it comes to the internet. They may have paid good money up-front for a website that just doesn’t bring home the bacon. This is, unfortunately, not surprising. That flashy “showcase” website of yesteryear may have some great photos of the pub, but in reality it was never going to drive in those customers. Imagine Ebay or Amazon having a website showing nothing more than full-colour pictures of their offices. Very nice to look at, but about as useful as underwater guttering.
Even those websites that actually go as far as displaying the “products” often forget basic marketing rules that have been tried and tested in the real world for centuries. Imagine having a menu board or a banner outside your pub, cheerfully advertising last month’s dishes or what you could have eaten last Christmas Day? What does that say about a pub? Well, believe me, I can find you dozens of pub websites giving that exact message to customers old and new. Such problems are often laid at the door of the web industry, with some justification. For example, one of the most common gripes from businesses up and down the land is that websites are just too awkward or costly to keep up-to-date.
Taking these things into account, it is little wonder that some publicans get that sinking feeling when the pub website looms into view, thinking in terms of cost, not profit. This needs to change. Be in no doubt whatsoever – websites can be very profitable indeed, provided you give the people what they need.
In this day and age, people using the internet don’t need a “window” on your pub, they need a “door”. They want to “do”, not merely “look”. People are used to buying things online and booking things online. When it comes to eating out, it is no different. They want to see today’s menu and book a table, instantly, at the click of a button, whether they are in front of the home computer or out and about on the “smart phone”. It is no accident that more and more pubs are getting their current food menus online and offering online booking. Unlike the websites of old, websites offering these features have real potential to repay your investment in a big way.
Before mention of the word “investment” has you running for the hills, it must be said that these days, we really are leaving behind the “take-your-money-and-run” era of web design. Now, there are specialists who will work with you on an on going basis to make sure you have the best chance of success online. Even better, you need only pay a set monthly charge, usually a fraction of what you spend on advertising, rather than hundreds or thousands of pounds up-front, so money should be no barrier.
Of course, it’s not just a question of money. I can almost hear the sighs of publicans up and down the land, as they think to themselves, “more hassle, more stuff I have no time for”. This is another area where the I.T. industry has failed, and often still does. Look, nobody is saying that you won’t need to learn a little. After all, if you have been running a pub for 20 years and you run it today with only the knowledge you had 20 years ago, you either have very deep pockets or you’re a working museum. Keeping your skills up-to-date is, of course, an inevitable part of any trade. I should know – I work in I.T.! I also know that we have all had far too much time and energy wasted in recent years thanks to the geeks of this world. The challenge now is to make technology truly “quick and easy”. That should be tattooed on the forehead of every single geek in the land.
When it comes to getting today’s food menu, offers, or special events onto your website, and when it comes to taking online bookings, it all has to be really easy and very quick for you and your staff. The good news is that a few hardy I.T. folks have taken up the challenge – I am proud to be one of their number. Nowadays, you really can keep your website up-to-date in the time it takes to send an email, and you really can take online bookings, automatically, even while you sleep!
It may be an over-used cliché, but it truly is no exaggeration to say that the internet is the revolution of our time, and now that the majority of adults do business there, it’s time to get your share.
Michael Harper runs PubMenu.org, a company whose mission is to provide any pub or restaurant with a profitable, pay-monthly web site, where customers can book online via computer or smart phone, and where updating the current food menu, offers and special events is as quick and easy as sending an email. To get the internet really working for your business, please click this link: PubMenu.org