This year’s FIFA World Cup will be played from 21 November to 18 December in Qatar, offering a fantastic opportunity for hospitality operators to increase footfall and profits, as well as give a boost to the festive season. As the event clashes with the Christmas party season, it will be a fine balancing act to ensure that both audiences are catered for.

With reports of fewer fans than normal travelling to the Middle East, people will be searching for the best venue to watch the game. Tom Saunders from DesignMyNight booking platform says “Whereas supporters usually watch the games live at outdoor fan zones, the timing of this year’s World Cup means more people will be looking for an indoor venue so demand is certain to grow as the tournament gets nearer.”

Set up for success
Multiple screens are a good idea so that fans can easily watch the game. Jane Pendlebury, CEO, The Hospitality Professionals Association (HOSPA) says “Provided you have all the correct licencing in place, these screens will really help position your venue as a “go to” destination for the World Cup, as well as contributing to a great atmosphere. Particularly for bars, you could decorate the building to fit the theme. This might include national flags and other football insignia. You could really go to town with multiple themed areas of the bar to reflect the cultural aspects of participant countries.”

As always, the booking system needs to be as convenient as possible. As Amber Staynings, CEO of Bums On Seats says “Can customers book 24/7 at a time that suits them? Can the customer see all the extra bolt on options offered at the point of booking? An effective booking system will play a valuable part in driving efficiency, as you’ll have accurate numbers, faster table turning, more upsells and useful pre-arrival information.”

A choice of packages, handheld tasty food and fast table service were among the top requirements for customers according to research by Bums on Seats. Amber said “Quality food that’s easy to eat while watching sport was one of the priorities. Some venues may have to use plastics for licensing reasons, but top of the list of ‘dislikes’ were wobbly thin plastic glasses and warm beer.”

Managing staffing and service
Table service is probably the best approach, given the popularity of the World Cup, especially when dealing with larger groups. Jane from HOSPA says “This often creates a much more manageable environment with a member of staff taking orders table to table, which could increase sales, without overwhelming the bar staff. The pandemic introduced a new era of QR technology offering another alternative for dealing with larger crowds.”

Creating special menus with themed dishes can work well for major sporting events. It may be easier to focus on the favourites such as England, Germany, Brazil and Portugal and concentrate on their dishes. Jane says “Offering a diverse menu of international cuisine and speciality cocktails will be popular especially if you adapt it to reflect certain fixtures.”

Getting the Balance Right

Case Study – The Bedford pub

Determined not to score an own-goal, The Bedford pub in London’s Balham, part of the Three Cheers Pub Co, have decided to stick to their usual menus for the World Cup. Becky Stevenson says “We’ve created special dishes for sporting events in the past, but our customers prefer their favourite dishes. We also don’t want to add pressure to the kitchen staff who are already serving our Christmas menus at the busiest time of year. Our 20” pizzas are always a huge success. Add to this a few small sharing platters and a bucket of beers and there’s the perfect order when the sport is on.”

Becky says the pub wants to make the most of the World Cup opportunity without forgoing Christmas revenue, especially as the past few years have been so difficult. Matches will be shown in the Club Room, main bar, saloon bar, ballroom and private dining room depending on the match, day and existing Christmas bookings. The pub has a mix of four extra-large projectors and HD screens.

“We decided that the games that could fall on the Friday and Saturday were too sought after by Christmas parties to make them football viewing only, so we have reduced our offering for the World Cup on those dates and kept the space for private parties. The semi-finals fall on a Tuesday or Wednesday so we have prioritised football on these dates as there will be less demand for Christmas parties,” she adds.

Apart from the opening match, the time difference between the UK and Qatar isn’t too much of an issue, says Becky “as the 7pm kick offs are a good time for catching people after work.”

A variety of ticket options have been created to suit each kind of spectator. This includes those who like to plan in advance including ordering food and drink and people who require a seat in the Club Room with its sophisticated sound system, as well as walk ins. Becky says “The walk in option is key as it allows flexibility for guests and it’s the walk-ins who fill the gaps if you have cancellations or haven’t been able to sell all the tickets.”