More than one in four consumers is eager to engage with outlets on social media, but only one in eight pubs, bars and restaurants is ready to capitalise on this.
Although the "no WiFi — talk to each other" signs are becoming fewer and further between in pubs, many still underestimate the power of the internet for their own marketing purposes, whether it's to post a foodie pic online or attract customers to upcoming Christmas events.
Research from Inapub's own #pubsgetonline campaign shows that 80 per cent of customers will check you out online before they come to the pub. So for crucial times like Christmas, it is vital to have a strong digital presence.
A Northampton pub that put up a Christmas tree on September 3, despite the fear of annoying the very vocal people of the internet and its own customers alike, was able to attract early Christmas bookings after promoting this offer on social media.
Klive Roberts, licensee of The Barratts, says: "It's only at the front entrance, it's not throughout the entire pub. We put it up so that when people walk in the door, they know that Christmas is on its way.
"Right next to it are booking forms for Christmas functions and parties. Although it's early, if you're doing a Christmas party or function, you're not going to book it in December, you'll be doing it now."
Klive says the tree has been a way to get some easy promotion by getting into the local papers and causing a bit of fuss on the pub's own social media pages.
"We don't do things because we think we'll get press coverage, because word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool you can use," he says. "But we use it because it works, and so far we've had 40 functions booked on the back of it."
Klive explains that social media works well for the pub, with Facebook statuses and sponsored posts that promote its Christmas functions on Facebook users' pages in the area. Klive and staff members have also sent out direct messages to the pub's database alerting them about Christmas bookings.
"I take emails throughout the year as well, so that when we get to September, I can send out a list reminding people that Christmas is around the corner," he explains.
And despite a couple of angry tweeters complaining about the pub's early Christmas tree, Klive says negative comments are rare.
There's a Christmas tree in the local pub. A Christmas tree. In September. I have lost the will to live.— William Henry (@nwh_willhenry) September 21, 2015
Christmas tree up in the pub!! It's September. This is utterly ridiculous— jane lavender (@janelavvie) September 20, 2015
There is a Christmas tree in this pub. I am never visiting this place again.— Ben Currie (@bencurrie8) September 15, 2015
Pernod Ricard is doing its bit to help pubs get to grips with technology. It has launched a social media guide to help the on-trade tackle Christmas online in order to win in premium drinks. According to the UK drinks specialist, social media will play a role in more than a third of drinks purchases this Christmas, with more than one in four consumers eager to engage with outlets on social media.
However, the research also showed that only one in eight pubs, bars and restaurants is ready to capitalise on this.
Additionally, only 12 per cent of licensees are active on social media daily, and six per cent said they were active only once or twice a month.
Ian Peart, on-trade channel director at Pernod Ricard, says: "With an estimated 9.5 million UK adult users at the start of 2015, Twitter is the perfect way for on-trade retailers to instantly reach a large audience and encourage real-time interaction with customers."
And despite the fact that 100 per cent of venues asked in a recent Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers study said that they have a website and Twitter account, many are rarely active to interact with customers. "This really highlights how important it is for pubs, clubs and bars to get their social media voice right — and to be consistently active across their social media channels," says Ian.
Where Christmas comes early
But why celebrate Christmas at Christmas? A pub in Brighton takes a different approach to Christmas by engaging its followers when it opens its door to Father Christmas in the summer. All in the name of goodwill, The Bedford Tavern served Christmas dinner at the end of June and saw customers dress up in festive clothing. With a round of piano bingo at the end, the event raised £760 for a local charity.
"It was carnage, but a lot of fun," explains landlord Adam Brooks. "We started it as a one-off years ago as an antidote to the World Cup, but because it was so popular we decided to carry it on."
He says the pub is very active on Facebook, with both him and customers posting updates and pictures to the page.
"I'm useless at Twitter, we have an account but I don't use it and we don't have a website, so it's all Facebook," he says. We get a lot of activity going at the end of June when we do Christmas, and we use it throughout the year to create all our events and invite our customers."