Could free Wi-Fi save the Irish pub from its steep decline?

25 May 2012

Nevilles Bar in the 1950s, picture courtesy of the Vintners Federation

The Irish pub – that staple of community life and a major tourist draw – is in steep decline but could save itself by the simple expedient of rolling out free Wi-Fi. More than half of 18 to 24-year-olds would go to the pub more often if there was free Wi-Fi, a Molson Coors survey reveals.

One of the unexpected casualties of the recession in Ireland has been the good old Irish pub. Once a focal point of community life (for better or worse) these hostelries are struggling and closing as revellers prioritise mortgages and groceries and transfer their socialising to Facebook in the midst of personal economic strain.

Irish pubs are also threatened by the lower price of alcohol in supermarkets as recession-weary shoppers opt for nights in rather than nights out.

No doubt the fine weather this weekend will boost business, but Wi-Fi for free I suspect would entice footfall in general. I live 48 kilometres or more from Dublin in a little village with two pubs. When I am allowed off the leash and head off for a pint of the black stuff I observe a daft ritual where the few remaining ‘regulars’ would crook their mobile phones against the window pane or hand it to the bar man to put up on a shelf just so they could get just enough cellular signal to retrieve a simple text message. Daft in this day and age.

A simple investment in a broadband connection and a Wi-Fi router would ensure a younger audience who needs to remain wired into their Facebook and Twitter friends would show up and provide customers. Simple, really. Not only that but tourists who want to keep in touch with loved ones via Skype, email and various social channels would also view the hostelry as a kind of beacon in the wilderness.

Then again there are the purists who still bemoan the arrival of the television in the quiet city or country pub. They may argue a good conversation – or pure silence – is better company than people with their eyes glued to a glittering little screen retweeting their every utterance.

Better food, free Wi-Fi

According to the Molson Coors survey, one in three people polled said they’d go to the pub more often if there was free Wi-Fi. Some 51pc of 18 to 24-year-olds definitely want it and some 45pc of 25 to 34-year-olds say the same.

In Ireland, 43pc of the pub-going public in Dublin say they would go more often if there was free Wi-Fi in their boozer of choice. This corresponds to 31pc of would-be revellers in Leinster, 37pc in Munster and 28pc in Connaught.

Molson Coors, one of the world’s biggest beer brewers which set up in Dublin and Belfast in 2010, has revealed that 63pc of Irish pub goers go to their local less than they did two years ago, but 86pc (85.7pc) would visit their local more frequently if pubs offered features such as free Wi-Fi and better food and entertainment.

The countrywide research looked at the changing habits of the Irish pub-going public over the past two years and what the Irish pub industry needs to provide them in order to increase more frequent visits and increase its survival chances.

When asked what they want from their local pub that they’re not currently getting, more than 1 in 3 (36pc) of the Irish public polled said free Wi-Fi, 35pc would like live music entertainment, 29.8pc want better food, 27.8pc called for better toilets, 26.6pc would like a shuttle bus service laid on, 23.4pc would like outdoor heating, 21.6pc would like more laughs with live comedy, 20.6pc want to test their knowledge in a pub quiz, 14.6pc want their own dedicated smoking area, 10pc would like to join a pub sports team, and 7.6pc would be happier if their local provided social network feeds.

Unsurprisingly, 65pc want cheaper drinks.

“Everyone knows the pub industry has been in steep decline for some time now,” said Niall Phelan, country manager, Molson Coors Ireland.

“We conducted this research so we could help publicans identify what their customers are looking for, and as a means to help address and improve some of the issues the industry is currently facing.

“While price is typically a barrier to growth in a stagnant economy, the research illustrates that by offering value-added services like free Wi-Fi, entertainment and better food and facilities, pubs can meet customer expectations and attract footfall without actually resorting to ongoing price reductions.”

QR codes and augmented reality

The survey comes the same week that an innovative new beer glass with a QR code was developed in New York by advertising agency BBDO.

The unique pint glass design presents you with a scannable QR code – but only when you have filled it to the top with Guinness.

Scanning the code will then prompt you to tweet about your pint, update your Facebook status, check in via Foursquare, download coupons and promotions, invite friends to join you for a tipple and launch exclusive content from Guinness.

What bar owners need to realise is that new forms of marketing such as QR codes and augmented reality won’t work unless revellers can get a decent cellular signal in the worst-case scenario.


John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years