29 September 2023

Unhappy Hour: Busy pubs to charge UK punters more under new dynamic pricing scheme

United Kingdom | Once the preserve of greedy airlines and Amazon, dynamic pricing has arrived in one of Britain's most sacred spaces: the pub. As the UK newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, reported on 11 September, Britain's biggest pub chain Stonegate Group has rolled out the flexible pricing system at some 800 sites across the country.

Pubs have introduced “dynamic” surcharges that make a pint of beer GBP 0.20 (USD 0.24) more expensive on the weekend, when pubs are busiest, to help cover the cost of washing glasses, extra staff, and putting bouncers on the door.

Stonegate has done it before

The firm, which operates over 4,500 licensed businesses, initially brought in additional charges during major sports tournaments like the FIFA World Cup in 2018 and 2022. During last year’s World Cup in Qatar, Stonegate jacked up the cost of a pint by GBP 1 (USD 1.22). But it has since made them permanent during “peak trading”.

Stonegate did not disclose how much current prices can vary, but according to the newspaper’s research, the Coach House pub in central London is charging GBP 0.20 more for a pint of beer on weekends.

Table display cards inform customers that “dynamic pricing is currently live in this venue during this peak trading session.”

Alienating customers

Some punters did not take to these changes kindly. Sharing a photo of one of the notices in a Google review, a disgruntled customer posted: “Charges more because it’s busy? [The pub] wanted GBP 4.50 (USD 5.50) for a small glass of cola… avoid like the plague.” The pub replied by saying that it regretted the customer’s negative experience.

Previously, a reporter for the website theface.com had visited a Stonegate pub in London and had paid GBP 7.05 (USD 8.60) for a pint of Peroni, which, even though the pub was not very busy, left him wondering if dynamic pricing was currently in operation. One of the two bartenders on duty told him that, in actual fact, Peroni goes up to around GBP 7.60 at peak times and, unsurprisingly, most customers are not too pleased with the policy.

A spokesman for Stonegate was quoted as saying that they were unable to say when prices typically went up at the venues, adding that the cost changes varied between pubs and sometimes occurred around “events”, but stressed that any increases were “marginal”.

Price fluctuations in bars and pubs are nothing new, although they usually go the other way. Think of Happy Hour or two-for-one cocktails. But price increases have been applied, too, for big events when crowds of customers are expected to show up.

Still, it is a move that risks driving people away from pubs at a time when the hospitality industry desperately needs people through the door. There is no two ways about it. Dynamic pricing at pubs signals to customers: “This is unhappy hour. We do not want your business.”

Brauwelt International Newsletter

Newsletter archive and information

Mandatory field