Pubs must take action against rise of casual dining sector, warns business

Emily Nudd and her father Dennis Nudd at the Trafford Arms, Norwich with landlord Chris Higgins. The

Emily Nudd and her father Dennis Nudd at the Trafford Arms, Norwich with landlord Chris Higgins. The Nudds have set up a company helping pubs of Norwich market themselves better called Outfox marketing.Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

Norfolk pubs could lose their customers and staff if they do not fight back against the 'march' of the casual dining sector through the high street.

That is the message from Emily Nudd, founder of Outfox Marketing based in Norwich, whose background in breweries such as Woodfordes and Adnams gave her an interest in promoting pubs.

'Until about 10 years ago there were pubs, and there were restaurants, and there was nothing much inbetween,' said Miss Nudd. 'Now we've seen the march of the casual dining sector, which has been crazy. Pubs in little villages are unaware that their target customers are often being stolen away.'

The trick was not for pubs to try to become fine dining areas themselves, but to make their selling points known via social media, TripAdvisor and savvy marketing.

'One pub I was talking to told me they'd printed 1,000 leaflets. Where were the leaflets? In the pub. Communication in some pubs is a bit of a disaster,' she said. 'Norfolk's pubs need to communicate with the customer when they're not in the pub.'

Miss Nudd set up the marketing agency in January with her father Dennis, who owns Woodfordes brewery where she started work at 17, and is working with two pubs at the moment.

One of these is the Trafford Arms on Grove Road in Norwich, which has stood there for almost a century, was bombed during the second World War and has publican Chris Higgins as proprietor.

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'It's not just casual dining, coffee shop culture has taken a huge chunk of customers as well,' said Mr Higgins. 'You've got to give credit to Wetherspoons [the pub chain] - it's the biggest seller of coffee on the high street. We have to serve all sorts now.'

People's social habits have changed hugely, he added, with everything from the 2007 smoking ban changing people's expectations of pubs to mobile phones reducing the need for a communal meeting place.

'Duty charges on alcohol have also been high. And supermarket pricing makes it easier for people to just drink at home,' he said. 'It's also the most regulated industry. When I bought a fruit machine a child protection agency had to review it.'

Yet despite the challenges pubs in Norfolk had seen an upturn in recent times as the economy pulled out of recession, said another publican.

Tim Ridley, owner of The Fur and Feather Inn near Wroxham, said he was more likely to lose staff than customers to the casual dining sector.

'Nandos and the rest don't effect the customer base as much as they've made finding staff difficult,' said Mr Ridley. 'It's finding lower level chefs and keeping them.'

Has your pub made changes to keep up? Contact business writer Jess Staufenberg on 01603772531 or email jessica.staufenberg@archant.co.uk

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