At the time of writing the nation has gone into a third lockdown. Much of the UK has already been in a similar situation since the end of the second lockdown at the beginning of December.
The length of this third lockdown remains indefinite so who knows what the situation will be in a month’s time. What we do know about January though is that, even without the existence of COVID, it’s become a tricky one to navigate for hospitality thanks to the rise in popularity of Dry January.
The narrative around Dry January has two themes. The first is the health and wellbeing angle, giving up the drink for a month is seen as a good opportunity for cleansing the body after putting it through the excesses of the festive period. The second, and again it’s linked to Christmas, is not going out for a drink can mean saving the pennies after some heavy spending at the end of the previous year.
In 2019 the content of online reviews painted a clear picture. Those referencing Dry January increased by a massive 61% from 2018 whilst the positivity of those reviews saw a rise too, jumping from 31% in 2018 to 44% in 2019 and 75% in 2020. One in ten drinkers observed Dry January almost a year ago, which was a record high and 58% of those people looked to choose low and no alcohol beverages, which does point towards how operators are catering to the changing tastes of their audience. That figure being so high because essentially they’ve got a lot more choice than they used to.
Those figures are positives for hospitality. It shows it is adapting but that also operators are able to provide better alternatives for their customers. Online reviews give us more insight. On Trip Advisor 27% referenced taste and 23% referenced choice.
There may be another theme to this too. Dry January isn’t an only child. There’s also it’s sibling, Sober October which shows there’s a definite change in trends happening. Younger people are preferring coffee shops for day-time meetups rather than pubs and bars. Alcohol Change UK suggests the amount of people going teetotal has increased amongst 16-44 year olds since 2005, with health-conscious 16-24 year olds now the group least likely to drink.
Dry January is a challenge for hospitality and it’s one they were rising to. People do want to be healthy but they also still like to socialise. Allow them to be healthy in a social environment and they will come. At the start of the year, before COVID, lockdowns and tiers, there was great news for the industry with new UK pub numbers growing for the first time in a decade, largely thanks to adapting to their audience, offering more premium experiences, overnight stays and diverse food offerings.
We know January 2021 is going to be very different and we do know once the world, and hospitality return, to something that looks normal life, they’ll have to adapt to the changing habits of their audience again.