The rise of ‘sober curious drinkers’ creates emerging challenge for pubs to adapt, says me&u report

The rise of ‘sober curious drinkers’ creates emerging challenge for pubs to adapt, says me&u report

Katrina Barry, CEO of me&u

The future may not be as dire as the famous pub with no beer, but according to a new study of the hospitality sector by Australian ordering and payment platform me&u, a growing number of patrons are becoming less interested in consuming alcohol when visiting their local with friends.

The study, compiled by UK-based market researcher YouGov, found that 30 per cent of Australians expect to drink less in the future while 22 per cent expect to give up alcohol altogether in the next five years.

It is this trend that most surprised Katrina Barry, the CEO of me&u, with the Gen Z and Millennial demographics dominating the emergence of ‘sober curious’ drinkers.

However, the report is not calling this the death of the pub scene in Australia as it says ‘mindful and sober curious drinkers will continue to venture out, seeking non-boozy alternatives while they’re socialising’.

Barry sees this emerging trend as an opportunity for the sector as it finds its feet in the post-COVID environment.

“Australian consumption is always changing, and I think the hospitality industry has always proven itself to be agile, adaptive and innovative,” she tells Business News Australia.

“The hospitality industry is currently trading around 110 per cent of pre-COVID levels but they’re probably only open about 85 to 90 per cent due to ongoing staffing challenges. While there is definitely a move towards healthier choices, there is also a move towards premium consumption.

“People may be drinking less and drinking healthier, but they are prepared to spend money on it so there is an absolute premiumisation effect happening in the industry right now.”

The me&u report, titled Pubs, Pints and Predictions, explores the changing role of hospitality venues to inspire ways to future proof these social hotspots through the use the use of data and technology to improve the dining-out experience for their customers.

“But not at the sacrifice of human interaction – it’s why people go out after all,” the report says. “The next 10 years in hospitality will drive operators to rethink the entire journey of going out.”

While changed drinking habits is among the key findings of the report, it also reveals that 80 per cent of respondents expect smart technology to be part of almost all venues in the near future.

More than half of the Australians surveyed also reveal they are more likely to visit a venue if they can experience it first on the metaverse. This trend was highest among Millennials.

“In the future, we might see an increase in conceptual meta-events, and venues taking their diners virtually to the farm where their food came from - helping tell local sourcing stories,” says the report. “We could even be virtually meeting the people who crushed the grapes used in the wine we’re drinking.”

Barry says the report shows that pubs of the future, like all industry sectors, need to evolve if they are to meet the changing needs of consumers.

"For pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants globally, we have to acknowledge that our customer has changed, and will change again; and we have to be ready, willing and able to arm ourselves with the right tools, partners and technologies to keep up," she says.

"Businesses will need to be creative, to be brave, to try new things whilst remaining agile and nimble within the market.”

Barry says me&u plays a key role in helping venues adapt by using the data it collects to identify emerging customer preferences and to optimise revenue for its clients.

“For venues, our platform generally delivers a 30 per cent uplift in revenue and that is because the AI and algorithms know that if you are going to order this beer you are most likely to order this food,” says Barry.

“For consumers, it’s about choice without time pressure. At the touch of their fingertips, they can engage in a genuine experience where they have optionality.”

Barry says studies show that 80 per cent of customers are keen for technology to ‘bring an end to the hassle of ordering’ and that this demand is emerging across the board from all demographics.

“Everyone is pretty much embracing this,” she says.

The US and UK remain the key focus for offshore expansion for me&u, although Barry says Australians remain the most tech savvy consumers among the company’s customer base.

“Australians by their nature are early adopters of the technology curve,” she says. “Of our transactions here, about 80 per cent of them go through Apple Pay or Google Pay, while a small percentage use credit card.

“In the US, Apple Pay and Google Pay are not commonly used as people still carry with them the greenback and credit cards. It is a slower journey there but we know it’s a mega market. The adoption will happen it just a matter of time.”

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