This question is one we’ve talked a lot about at ABDA recently as we are fortunate to be working on some exciting projects in this sector over the coming months. It’s important you understand the needs and wants of consumers before you create any design, and a large amount of our time is spent researching consumer behaviour.

For most people, the key to going to the pub has always been about the social environment, somewhere you would meet friends, chat to strangers and be ‘free’. When hospitality first reopened in May, this felt different and not being able to mingle freely due to the requirement for table service certainly changed the pub experience. However, in the past week or so, as life has returned to some degree of normality, there is something comforting and familiar about standing at the bar making small talk.

People expect more from their local

We feel that when it comes to eating and drinking out, consumers are looking for much more than they used to. People crave experiences, a delicious cocktail, a craft beer tasting session, local wines, food pairing, tasting menus, pop-ups and new take-out experiences. After spending so much time at home, away from family and friends, we all want to explore and enjoy life more. Our director, Claire Smith said she finds the more traditional style of service lack lustre and she is now wanting to try different things such as new dishes, tasting or sharing plates and learn about drinks pairings to add to her dining experience. At the moment, consumers are more than happy to pay a higher price for a good experience as they are keen to treat themselves. After 18 months of challenges, we want to indulge without being frivolous. A night out feels a real luxury right now!

What do people want from a pub?

How much people expect from a pub depends on the locality and demographic. A pub which has been traditionally wet led, will undoubtedly remain the same now restrictions have been lifted as at the end of the day a pint is a pint. Those consumers who are willing to go further afield or like to explore different places, will be looking for their local to raise the game. This could be the introduction of a new cocktail menu, themed food nights or even tasting menus.

As designers for the hospitality industry, we must be mindful of the experiences consumers are looking for. For example, when designing for a social experiential pub, we know the venue will be popular with small to medium sized groups of six to ten people. So, everything is designed with this concept in mind including the table sizes, the way the space is zoned to accommodate groups and to allow privacy for each party. In contrast, a space which is created for a more luxury experience, say a night of cocktails or craft beer, will be designed with comfort in mind to encourage a longer dwell time. We would look at using more upholstery, banquette booth seating to make private spaces, lower-level lighting to create intimacy and softer finishes to absorb sound.

The pub as the new office environment

More and more town centre pubs are accommodating the ‘working from home’ crowd, allowing customers to book a table for the day. From a design point of view, it means ensuring there are power points and charging stations available within seating areas. Pubs are having to adapt their offering and we’ve even seen the start of ‘coffee subscriptions’ which encourage people to pay a monthly fee for unlimited coffee. We are also building in spaces which can be used as small meeting venues during the day and then adapted for intimate/private dining spaces during the evening.

Whilst there is still anxiety for some about being amongst a lot of other people, pub owners need to offer areas that provide a more secluded environment. You don’t tend to find one size fits all in a pub as people go for different reasons. We tend to broadly group pubs as traditional wet led, food led, experiential, luxury drinks or music focused.

The impact of design trends on pubs

Whilst we always take into account current trends, the extent to which we build them into a design depends on the type of venue as some pubs will always attract a certain clientele, no matter what the interior looks like. We are noticing that regionally the big trends that have been in London and larger cities for a while, such as experiential and gaming venues, are now feeding into the suburbs with consumers wanting to experience something different.

We are also seeing a variation in the food offer which pubs and bars are putting out there. There seems to be a move away from the traditional or gastropub offering and towards small plates, tapas and street food style offers. For some consumers, design plays a big part in their decision on where to eat out and a nice environment can add value, especially for those looking for a complete experience.

What does the future hold?

We believe we are about to see a real boom in new pubs and bars. If you look at our local town of Northampton as an example, there are five new venues opening in the next six months and each one is very different. It’s inspiring to see that owners and operators are being more adventurous and thinking outside the box.

We’ll be sharing the story of new venues we are working on via our Instagram account so make sure you are following @ABDAdesign for all the latest inspiration.

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