Christmas 2020 – what does it hold for UK bars?

Kate Malczewski

Kate Malczewski

23 October 2020

The Christmas trading period has never been so important – or unpredictable. Kate Malczewski explores the measures to make the 2020 festive season both safe and prosperous behind the bar

From Pornstar Martini-fuelled office Christmas parties, to dinners made festive by ordering the nicest bottle on the list, business in the lead-up to the holidays has always been pivotal to the hospitality industry – and this year, it’s more important than ever.

While footfall will likely be reduced, the 2020 festive season is still a valuable opportunity for the on-trade to regain some of the momentum that was lost in the wake of Covid-19. But given the uncertainty of this backwashed pint of a year, what will the end of 2020 hold for the industry, and how can operators prepare? Here, the on-trade’s biggest suppliers help us get in the spirit with their insights and advice.

Safety first

The safety of customers and staff must remain the top priority for venues during the holidays. ‘It’ll be important to strike a balance between delivering a warming atmosphere that people want to experience, and ensuring that measures are in place to keep both consumers and staff safe,’ says Melissa Wisdom, on-trade commercial director for Diageo.

To aid in this, the drinks giant is currently running a two-year programme called Raising the Bar, donating £80m to the on-trade internationally to provide equipment for safety and hygiene. Preparation is key for reassuring customers.

A survey by research firm CGA found that a lack of social distancing is the reason cited by most consumers discouraged from visiting the on-trade, with a lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) also playing a role. Venues that create a safe environment through social distancing policies and PPE now, ahead of the holiday season, are more likely to be front of mind for people looking to host a festive gathering.

‘For those that do plan to go out for holiday celebrations in the on-trade, we expect them to return to trusted experiences and trusted brands,’ explains Jacob Briars, global head of advocacy and education for Bacardi.

Many venues have already adopted online booking systems, ordering apps and digital menus to minimise physical contact between consumers and staff .

Estelle Martin, head of experiential and consumer activation for Pernod Ricard, says a ‘digital-first approach’ will continue to be critical, which is why Pernod Ricard is supplying its on-trade customers with digital assets like QR codes linked to cocktail menus. But Diageo’s Wisdom offers a word of advice for venues relying on this type of technology: ‘Ensure that booking systems and digital menus are working flawlessly – any obstacle for a consumer booking online or placing orders may result in missed opportunities.’

And it’s not enough to simply implement these measures – it’s also important to communicate them to customers, notes Wisdom.

‘Consider how to make the most of social media, promoting your offering but also clearly showcasing safety measures in place and any new policies that may have been introduced. Whilst atmosphere and experience remain key, this can be combined with safety measures, and offers an opportunity to reassure any consumers that might be looking to visit.’

Return of the festive classics

After the year we’ve had, it’s no surprise that the best approach for cocktails this holiday season is one rooted in familiarity and comfort – though there’s also room for a bit of ingenuity.

‘We know that one in five consumers changed their drinking habits during lockdown, with those trading up more likely to continue those habits when in the on-trade,’ says Martin, citing research from consumer intelligence agency Brandwatch. With this in mind, Pernod Ricard is championing ‘festive twists that stand out’, such as an Espresso Martini with chocolate orange and a Spiced Passionfruit Martini.

Diageo’s Wisdom agrees that riff s on classics make sense for 2020’s holiday season. ‘By recreating classic cocktails with a festive flair, consumers will be excited and drawn in,’ she comments. ‘In previous years, we’ve seen the hot G&T offer something different to mulled wine, but even simple garnishes with a holiday twist will provide something new.’

Indeed, warm drinks seem particularly well suited to winter 2020, says Briars. ‘Bars can keep consumers returning to outdoor areas through winter by offering warm drinks – those with warm flavours, or hot-temperature cocktails. These will allow people to continue enjoying their drinks in the increased number of outdoor drinking areas that we’ve seen established in the summer months.’

Naturally, he recommends cocktails like a Bacardi Spiced Rum & Ginger Beer or a classic Hot Toddy with Aberfeldy Scotch whisky. Another excellent approach for Christmas 2020, according to Briars? One of pure nostalgia: ‘We are expecting people to lean into the traditional and the familiar this season, as they seek to recreate festive traditions within the “new normal”,’ he explains.

‘I’d expect we will see more riffs on Christmas and holiday flavours too, such as mince pie and Christmas pudding… and perhaps even the revival of advocaat and lemonade. 2020 has upended almost everything we thought we knew!’

Sleigh the delivery game

Preparing your safety and hygiene measures and perfecting your drinks offering will help draw in customers over the holidays, particularly those who have frequented your venue in the past. But what about the people who decide not to go out at all?

The uptick in takeaway and delivery cocktails during lockdown should continue to benefit bars and restaurants during the holiday season. ‘The on-trade can help people hack the holidays and make entertaining at home feel special through initiatives such as cocktails-to-go delivery services and cocktail kits from bars,’ Briars comments.

To this end, Bacardi recently launched an online platform, Bring the Bar Home, with resources for bars looking to tap into takeaway cocktails. Pernod Ricard has also recognised the importance of delivery cocktails for the Christmas season: ‘We’re looking to partner with key managed customers for at-home cocktail solutions,’ comments Martin, noting that the supplier has partnered with prebatched cocktail company Pontoon to create a range of ready to- serve cocktails.

Ultimately, whether a customer is in your venue or cosied up with a delivery cocktail by the fire at home, the goal is the same: ‘People are looking for each drink and experience to be unique and special, to create meaningful moments of connection,’ says Briars. ‘Bars should ask themselves what they are doing to cater to this need.’

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