Croydon landlords aiming to keep their spirits up
BUSINESS FOCUS: Ian Austen hears how pubs are faring in the downturn
WITH reports still indicating that 25 pubs a week are closing across the country, licensees locally are having to fight even harder to succeed in what is an increasingly testing market.
The days of the local heaving with regulars every day are long gone and locally this is being put down to a number of different factors.
Cheap drinks offered by firms such as J D Wetherspoon have obviously had a detrimental effect on the smaller pubs and even smaller chains which cannot hope to compete on price.
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And almost universally across the south of the borough, pubs are saying a collapse in lunchtime trade is hitting profits.
Nevertheless the determination remains to succeed, although landlords realise that going that bit further or specialising more is now often the difference between success and a continuing drain on diminishing finances.
June Waldren, manager of The Edge in South End, was brought in two months ago to oversee a revamping of the pub.
She said: "I have noticed it is quiet here during the day but it still picks up at night, especially on Fridays and Saturdays.
"The loss of lunchtime trade generally has happened because employers don't like people going back to work smelling of drink any more and they also worry about health and safety rules."
Ms Waldren also believes higher prices were resulting in people coming out to the pub less often than they used to do.
It was therefore essential, she said, that pubs adapted to meet the changing needs of customers.
She said: "We are intending to change the pub around by giving it a facelift and bringing in things like a greater selection of wines and introducing cocktails."
Specialisation has always been a feature of the Half and Half bar, also in South End and is key, said manager, Tom Neza, to its success.
Mr Neza said: "I attend pubwatch meetings and trade is a bit slow everywhere in Croydon at the moment and I think that is probably because people are not going out so often."
Half and Half's has cornered something of a niche market by specialising in Belgian and other foreign beers and a wide range of cocktails.
Mr Neza said: "You have to do that when you are competing with the big chains around Croydon.
"It is obviously working because we are still here."
For Sarah Austin, assistant manager at The Pembroke in Chipstead Valley Road, Coulsdon maintaining excellent customer service is a must for success.
Although part of the Barracuda chain of pubs and able to cater for around 400 people , the aim of staff at the pub is to keep it functioning as a "local".
Ms Austin said: "The lunchtime trade has slowed up a bit but overall we are still making more money than we did last year.
"A lot of the people who come in either live or work locally and most of our staff have been for a long time so we know our customers."
By combining knowledge and customer service with a good mix of food and drink, she believes that the worst of any economic downturn can be avoided by landlords.
Ms Austin said: "If you have the quality then people are happy to come out and pay.
"If you don't people will stay at home or buy cheap drink from the supermarkets."