That January is a tough month to run a pub is not news to any licensee, so it's no surprise that back in 2015 a chain of bars sought to boost business with a campaign called "Try January".
Sarah Swaysland, the then head of marketing at that chain (Be At One) takes up the tale: "We wanted to encourage a paradigm change with the usual Dry January — basically, instead of promoting abstinence, we wanted to encourage guests to try something new, in a positive way."
The offer was all new cocktails for £5 in the hour after Happy Hour for the whole month and it proved to be a huge success. The group reported a 10 per cent increase in like-for-like sales in that first year, selling 29 per cent fewer Mojitos and more Mezcal in three weeks than it had for the whole of December.
Since then the idea of Try January has been adopted by others in the hospitality industry and has moved beyond drinks into food and events too. So, if you fancy trying Try January this January, here's a round-up of some ideas to help you get started.
The beer industry has been pushing #Tryanuary for a few years now and there's even an official website (tryanuary.com) and Twitter feed (@Tryanuary) aimed at promoting local beer.
There were 180 events under the banner in 2018, from pub quizzes to Battles of the Brewers to film nights in breweries to a Stout Party, as well as the usual tap takeovers, tastings, talks and beer festivals. This year the organisers are promising even more, so get in touch via the website if you fancy getting involved.
Of course, Try January doesn't stop at beer, and cocktails are a great way to boost spend at any time of the year.
Begin 2019 by banning the Porn Star Martini (now officially the UK's favourite cocktail) for the month and promote new drinks instead – take inspiration from cocktails that are popular across the globe such as the Old Fashioned (the number one drink in nearly 30 per cent of the world's best bars, according to Drinks International).
Or, indeed, if you don't sell Porn Star Martinis yet, capitalise on its new-found popularity and make that your cocktail of the month.
Don't do cocktails? Venture into the world of flavoured tonics, which offer a simple way to change up your mixed drinks and most of the big and small mixer brands offer them. Some of the most popular include cucumber and lemon tonics but there's also the more exotic, such as salted lemon or Yuzu flavoured tonics.
There's also a plethora of exciting non-alcoholic drinks you could promote during a month that sees many abstain as part of their Dry January efforts or keep it as simple as offering a new coffee blend, wine or even a milk of the month – did you know oat milk is now a *thing*, for example?
Sports and events
Although January can see some customers dropping the booze as they look to work off the guilt and extra inches December can bring, they still like to get out of the house. They might not come in for a drink, but maybe they would come to watch a game.
By this point in the season, disillusionment with the UK version of football will be setting in for fans of many teams, so it could be a good time to try the American version.
American football is one of the fastest-growing spectator sports in the country and has gained something of a cult following in pubs. The end of season play-offs begin in January and the extra drama knockout competitions brings makes this the perfect month to introduce NFL to your customers.
Talking of knockout sport, there's also the FA Cup third round coming up. And if you plan on showing the Guinness Six Nations why not try some Gallagher Premiership rugby as a warm-up act.
One of the first big regular events in January is Burns Night. If you haven't done so before consider putting on a Burns Night supper. You don't have to be Scottish to appreciate haggis, Scotch or the works of Burns.
You could also think about an alternative birthday bash. Elvis was born on January 8, which seems like an ideal excuse to hire in a singer or get the karaoke out.
Another date to consider is January 14 — National Dress Up Your Pet Day, which could provide a chance to fill your pub with customers and their fury friends and some classic material for your social media channels.
Finally, no doubt you and your staff will have been working all hours in December and may want a Christmas party of your own. Other hospitality teams will be in the same boat so you could market yourself as a place for a belated Christmas party for those otherwise occupied in December.
It gets earlier every year, so why not extend it for as long as possible too?
Plant based: Veganuary – a registered charity set up by Matthew Glover and Jane Land - encourages veggies and omnivores to try vegan eating for a month.
Set up in 2014, it has been very successful. It grew by 183 per cent last year and had 168,542 people signing up to go vegan for January. Next year it plans to reach 300,000 people.
If your pub would like to take part, the campaign suggests heading to its website – Veganuary.com – where there is a collection of recipes to attract customers, free posters and other support. If you are a multiple operator with more than 10 sites, Veganuary can offer bespoke support too. For more on plant-based food check out our feaure here.
Go American... southern style: Is it time to go beyond the hotdogs when thinking about States-side cuisine? An emerging trend for next year, is the "New South", where American chefs from metropolitan areas have been creating a new fusion cooking based on southern cuisine.
Related to this is Louisiana creole food, which combines French, Spanish, West African, Haitian, German, and Italian influences, and includes dishes such as gumbo – a type of rich stew – bisque, and main dishes with shellfish or chicken.
Children's menus and family-friendly dining: The development of children's menus looks likely to continue with the traditional burger or sausage & chips shifting to more adventurous options.
Recognise children's developing palates by offering smaller variants of adult dishes and "food challenge'" dishes to provide a sense of entertainment and intrigue for children.
Creating spaces which are family-friendly is increasingly important too. The days of a few crayons in an old tin and a sheet of colouring paper are over.
Try #tryanuary for a social media boost
Inapub's very own social media guru, Matthew Jones, suggests harnessing the power of the #tryanuary campaign across your own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds to boost business during the first month of 2019:
- Follow the Tryanuary campaign on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram via the tag/username: tryanuary
- Use the hashtag #tryanuary throughout the month with posts of all of your craft, cask & bottled beers.
- Find your regional co-ordinator for the Tryanuary and see if they can help you with any events. Find out who that is at www.tryanuary.com
- Take regular pictures of your craft and cask ales throughout the month and showcase the USPs of your pub's beer selection.
- Try out a Facebook live video on a regular occasion through the month and talk through the tasting notes and any other information about your beer selection.