Food & Beer “Signposting”

In your continued effort to increase trade at your pub you’ll need to market your food and drink offering to prospective customers. Understanding how customers think and behave when making their choices of which pubs to eat and drink in is an essential part of any marketing plan or when you create your menus. How To Run A Pub has teamed up with Chris Holden to bring you some great insights into customer behaviour.

Over the past 25 years Chris has held a series of senior marketing positions, including insight director and latterly head of market analysis at Molson Coors. he was also chairman of the British Beer & Pub Association Statistics Panel for over 10 years. In 2012, Chris set up Ashdale Business Consulting Ltd, an independent consultancy providing strategy, insight and analysis.

Can’t See The Wood For The Trees?

For a variety of reasons, I have had the good fortune of visiting Sheffield over the last few months. Whilst I have been there on a number of occasions in the past, it’s not a place that I was particularly familiar with. Finding oneself in relatively new surroundings can often be disorienting, not least when your train is delayed and you risk being late for an important meeting.

Continually having to look at a map, either an old-fashioned paper version or on a smart-phone will help although it’s less than ideal when it’s pouring with rain.

I was therefore very grateful to find that Sheffield had joined the growing number of towns and cities who have erected large local maps to help people bring to life and navigate their way through what otherwise may seem like a labyrinth of inter-connecting streets and roads. As well as basic street map and places of interest they quite often also have the added feature of walking times and distances – again, a godsend when one is running late.

This additional help, advice or “sign-posting” isn’t by any means rocket science, however, when it comes to food and drink it does seem to be something which many operators often choose not to do or to do at a very superficial level. So, what do I mean by that?

The drinks offer

Over many years, I have led numerous projects to better segment the drinks market. These pieces of work usually have been for sales and marketing teams, senior managers or pub and bar owners – not the end customer. Although in most cases the industry has moved on from categorising drinks based purely on alcoholic strength, it’s not unfair to say in the case of beer and even wine, much segmentation still revolves predominately around product characteristics or at a push geographical providence.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I completely acknowledge that these can and indeed should play an important part in helping consumers navigate their way through a drinks menu, where they exist. However, I believe that these labels form just one part of the “sign-posting” process and not be the only clue you offer to your customers to help them making their purchasing decisions.

The food offer

When it comes to restaurants and food-led pubs, we often see a similar reluctance to group or classify menu items other than in a traditionally accepted approach of starters, main courses and desserts. When it comes to ethnic or international cuisine, whilst the actual groupings will usually be different, the segmentation will generally remain one-dimensional. Italian restaurants highlight pasta or pizza dishes; Chinese focus on the main ingredient – beef, duck, chicken, etc.; Indian by cooking style, Rogan Josh, Korma or Balti – all of which are valid as “sign-posting” mechanisms.

As with drinks, I am not suggesting that these labels and groups don’t help customers when it comes to making their meal choices. What I am saying is that they are primarily about product characteristics and, at a shallow level, determine a customer’s likes and dislikes, but as such don’t tap into potentially more powerful customer values or their ways of behaving. So how could this be built on?

The science bit!

When it comes to basic human behaviour there is a reasonable degree of agreement, albeit the detail and language used may vary, when looking at the overall UK population, each of us broadly sits within one of the groups detailed in the boxes below. When it comes to the way we behave, we’re Settlers, Prospectors or Pioneers.  So what does that mean in plain English and which one are you? Or, more importantly, consider where your customers sit.


·       Wary of change

·       No interest in new experiences



·       Who usually orders the same drink

·       Who usually orders the same thing(s) from the menu

·      Who usually comes in at the same day/time each week


·       Trend and fashion conscious

·       Likes new ideas and adventurous


·       Who orders the latest trendy drink

·       Who often asks to see the specials board

·       Who asks for recommendations



·       Trend setters

·       Intrigued by the new and unknown


·       Who will usually try whatever is new on the menu

·       Who makes suggestions for additions to the menu

·      Who shares their experiences from other outlets


So what does that mean for my pub?

With most theories you can usually find as many people who don’t believe in what is being put forward as you can those who support it. However, if some of the above rings true then maybe ask yourself if your food and/or beverage offer is designed in such a way as to tap into how your customers are likely to behave, or is it just a nice list of what you sell? How can you better present your offer to align with the way that your customer’s actually make decisions? Of course, at the same time remembering not to completely discard some of the more traditional labels which are equally useful in the overall offer.

To bring this to life here is some suggestions for the type of language and sign-posting you could use.

For Food Menus



Sign-posting Language

·       Traditional

·       Family Favourites

·       Classics


Example Dishes

·       Steak & Chips

·       Fish & Ships

·       Any Roasts

·      Even simple pasta dishes


Sign-posting Language

·       Locally Sourced/Free Range

·       Specials Board

·       Recommended by the Chef


Example Dishes

·       New York Burger & Fries

·       Skate Wings with Capers

·       Pork Medallions

·      More Adventurous Pasta Dishes


Sign-posting Language

·       Use Far Away Countries

·       Organic

·       Different Cooking Styles


Example Dishes

·       Indonesian Fish Curry

·       Corn-Fed Chicken, Wild Leeks

·       Tagine of Lamb

·      Black Pasta & Squid


For Drinks Menus



Sign-posting Language

·       Classics


Example Drinks

·       Gordons/Beefeater Gin

·       Carling/Fosters

·      Keg Ales or Local Cask


Sign-posting Language

·       Premium

Example Drinks

·       Bombay Sapphire

·       Birra Moretti

·      Local Craft Beer


Sign-posting Language

·       Experiential


Example Drinks

·       Tanqueray/Hendrick’s

·       Fullers Frontier Craft Lager

·      Unknown Craft From

Why bother with all this?

Improving the “sign posting” of your food and beverage offer shouldn’t be difficult and it is likely to offer both “hard” and “soft” benefits to your business. “Soft” benefits may include making it quicker and easier for your customers to order.  If your customers can make choices quicker, then they could be served more efficiently, which may also improve your customers overall experience and encourage repeat visits.

Organising your offer more in line with this approach could also provide “hard” benefits as it may enable your team to trade up a customer’s choice. The reality is that Prospectors and Pioneers are less likely to be price sensitive.  As such, drink and food that is sign-posted to them can contain more expensive ingredients which should translate into higher margin opportunities, and thus more profit.

You can contact Chris Holden here:

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