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Market snapshot: Family pubs

04 July 2005
Market snapshot: Family pubs

The market

The vast majority of pubs and bars in the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" /?>

UK will now allow children and families into at least certain areas of their establishments during the day, even if it is just the beer garden or conservatory. >As such, it is impossible to separate off family or child-friendly pubs from the £28.6b total UK pubs and bars market. But with some estimates putting the number of families in the UK at more than 24 million, it is certainly a market with potential.Some chains, such as Vintage Inns, have made a point of positioning themselves as, if not exactly child unfriendly, then at least not encouraging children and certainly not having children's menus.Few, though, have gone as far as the Barracuda-owned Tollgate pub in Dartford that, in March 2005, introduced an "eat and go" policy for families that required diners with children to leave 45 minutes after their meal was served.This is despite the fact that the 150-strong Barracuda chain recently enlisted the help of Bernard Matthews in developing a children's menu to be more appealing to both children and their parents. Certainly, things appear to have moved on since a 2001 survey by website familyzest.com voted UK pubs some of the least child-friendly in the world.Chains such as Spirit's Wacky Warehouse and Tom Cobleigh and Greene King's Hungry Horse have made a point of trying to present themselves as specifically child-orientated, with bright colours, play areas, extensive children's menus and some, such as Whitbread's Brewers Fayre, even going so far as hiring entertainers.Key trendsThe growth of this market has been largely fuelled by the growth in the pub food market.With wet sales declining and pub food now a £6b industry, it has made sense for many pubs to try to tap into the market for families, who are more likely to want to come to a pub for a sit-down meal rather than simply a pint."There is demand for family-orientated pubs that make a bit of an effort on the entertainment side," says Mike Coughtrey, head of pubs and restaurants at accountancy firm KPMG.The difficulty is whether, by doing this, the pub starts to lose its identity as a pub and simply becomes a play destination and so, ironically, less attractive to adults, including parents.Much as with school meals, the quality of the food served to children in pubs has become a key issue. A study by the Caroline Walker Trust in August 2004 slammed children's meals in chains such as Harvester and Wacky Warehouse.It found Harvester's Rib Ticklers meal provided more than two times the maximum recommended calorie intake and four times the maximum recommended fat content for a children's meal. The Wacky Warehouse chicken nugget meal (although deemed a "healthy option" by the company) fared little better."It is definitely an issue. Not enough pubs are offering really creative or imaginative choices for children," agrees Which? Pub Guide editor Andrew Turvil. "They may have a really top-notch Cumberland sausage with mash, say, for the adult but then will serve up the most appalling processed rubbish for the children. Pubs could also be more flexible in offering smaller portions of the adult food," he says.But Coughtrey disagrees it is such a large issue, arguing that in many pubs parents demanding healthier options for their children will be in the minority. "There will always be a large proportion of parents who want to eat steak and chips and just want an easy life. If they're out and it's a special occasion they're not going to worry if the children eat chicken nuggets," he says.Similarly, many pubs have found that you need not spend a fortune to attract more families.A recent survey by *Families* magazine found simple things such as a basket of toys or crayons on the table and a landlord willing to warm a baby's bottle could be just as effective as expensive play-pits or mini golf courses.But it also stressed: "Often the places that specifically cater for families with young children are not necessarily the ones where you want to linger over a long lunch. On the other hand, the places where you can enjoy good quality food and a decent pint of real ale sometimes would rather not have children in their establishment."The futureThe introduction of the new licensing act in November along with the Government's planned 2008 smoking ban will make a difference and encourage more pubs to become more child and family friendly, predicts Coughtrey."There will be an increasing number of pubs that will be wanting to include on their operating certificates the ability to have children on the premises. There is often a sense that having families can be a calming influence on establishments," he says.The changes in the licensing laws are in effect a natural extension of what has been happening for a while, adds Turvil. Many pubs already allow children in the bar area, with the only limit being actually sitting at the bar."I feel the market for family-friendly pubs is going to continue to grow. Perhaps, if anything, there will be a clearer demarcation between what is friendly and what is unfriendly. There is a difference between children being tolerated and being welcomed," he says.At the same time, it is likely there will be limits to the expansion of the market. "There are times, in the evening for instance, when people, sometimes particularly parents, want to be able to go out to a pub without encountering children everywhere," Turvil suggests.
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