Lock-ins aren't what they used to be.

The ritual of the landlord bolting the door, closing the curtains and welcoming you into an exclusive club is largely a memory from a time before licensing laws were relaxed.

These days, a lock-in is just as likely to refer to a room punters are desperately trying to get out of.

This is what has brought me to the Four Thieves in London's Battersea — a bustling Laine's Pub Company venue with a multitude of reasons to visit.

Before I've sat down I've walked past the brewery, clocked the gin yard and watched as dozens of customers have made their way upstairs to the arcade, where they can play crazy golf or take each other on in a variety of modern and nostalgic video games.

As general manager Carly Piggott explains, these days you should give people as many reasons as you can to visit your pub. "A beer or a rum and Coke used to be enough but now it's about the experience and doing something different and quirky," she says.

I'm here to try to find a way out of one of the pub's two escape rooms. These have become big business in recent years with The Crystal Maze inspiring numerous Cluedo-esque or code-cracking games.

 

 

 

Sordid secrets

My friend and I team up with a couple who have come along to test their wits, and are led to our room by the mysterious Gabriel, an actress who never comes out of character and explains that our job is to "solve the sordid secrets of Lady Chastity's vineyard in time to win her fabled bottle of aphrodisiac wine."

Basically, we have an hour to crack numerous codes around a dark and dingy room that hasn't been touched since a deeply troubled Lady Chastity locked herself in her own cupboard many moons ago. Succeed, and we get wine.

We try. Lord, how we try.

We hunt through drawers, rustle through old clothes, shine our torches in dark recesses to find clues and secret doors, spend way too long looking at a collection of old bones, piece together puzzles and get attacked by a giant spider.

But just as we get towards the final clue, Gabriel (who was waiting outside the door just in case an emergency escape were needed for any reason) re-enters the room to tell us our time is up. No wine. Gutted. A bit like Lady Chastity's lovers.

 

 

It was a head-scratching and adrenalin-inducing hour that warranted discussion over a drink after the event, which is exactly how pubs can make a few quid by hosting such a game.

Carly continues: "We get all sorts in, large groups or couples, but they all tend to have a drink before or afterwards. Often at the weekends they will book a table and have some food or go and play in the arcade.

"It's driving different people into the pub and the next time they do something, they will think of coming here."

 

Mystery guests

There are numerous escape room businesses across the country but, to our knowledge, only one that specialises in installing games in pubs.

Handmade Mysteries was set up by James Addy after he decided he wanted to escape from his previous job in the civil service and follow his entrepreneurial streak.

The company currently operates out of venues in Brighton and London and is looking to expand across the UK.

 

 

James explains how the games, which cost players around £20 a go, can also be a money-spinner for the hosting pub in terms of extra sales.

"We have done research which shows that this can bring in an extra £2,000 a week and that 75 per cent of people coming in have not been to the pub before. We are marketing the pub and bringing in a lot of customers in that key 25-to-35 age group," he says.

There are also minimal costs involved. You just need an appropriate space and a big enough potential customer base to ensure the games are being played regularly. This means they are likely to be better suited to urban pubs, rather than community locals in small villages.

It is the experience of doing something active with friends which James believes is behind the success of escape rooms.
"I think experiential events are the way forward for pubs. People are looking for something different from their pub entertainment," he adds.

They are undoubtedly different. Perhaps escape rooms could even hold the key to providing a new revenue stream for your business.