As winning combinations go craft beer, smokehouse food and sport takes some beating. Which probably explains why Glasgow’s The Raven is one of the freshest bars in the city right now.
Ask the team behind The Raven for the reason behind the Glasgow bar’s popularity and they respond immediately: balance.
In The Raven’s case, this balance comes from three things: beer – craft beer in particular – succulent smokehouse food and sport. It’s this combination that has enabled the city centre venue to shine in Glasgow’s unsurprisingly competitive bar sector.
And while The Raven boasts 11 screens for viewing the latest sporting action, it doesn’t dominate proceedings. Downstairs the screens are unobtrusive, with the volume switched off, allowing customers to enjoy their craft beer and pulled pork shoulder. Upstairs, the commentary is switched on for die-hard fans.
It’s an approach that has certainly paid off. We visited The Raven to discover why in this case three is most definitely the magic number.
Deputy General Manager: Emmett Timoney
Number of Screens: 11
It’s been a bar for a long time. “We have a lot of customers coming in saying that they remember when it was such-and-such a pub. It was most recently a bar called the Bay Horse. At different times it’s been many different things. At one point (Celtic legend) Charlie Nicholas had it, Champagne Charlie. It’s most recent incarnation was very music-driven. And the idea we had at the start was to get away from that and move more towards sport. So that was very conscious when we were designing the bar – where to put the TVs and what have you.”
“SHOWING SPORT HAS A MASSIVE IMPACT ON OUR BUSINESS – YOU CAN SEE IT WHEN YOU LOOK AT OUR TAKINGS WHEN A BIG GAME IS ON.”
We have a massive whiteboard in the office with the dates of all the big games. “We always look to see when the big tournaments take place – like the Six Nations and the Euros this summer. We have to plan ahead. Showing sport has a massive impact on our business – you can see it when you look at our takings when a big game is on.”
There’s no affiliation to Glasgow Rangers or Celtic. “There are pubs across Glasgow that are Celtic or Rangers pubs. Towards Ibrox for example and towards the East End you get wee pockets. There’s Irish pubs in the centre that are Celtic favourites, but generally the folk are sensible. It can cause divisions (the rivalry between Celtic and Rangers) and you run the risk of alienating a large section of customers if you affiliate yourselves with one side.”
There’s certainly a buzz about the English teams in the Champions League. “I’ve noticed a lot more Arsenal fans recently. It used to be that everyone was a (Manchester) United fan, but we’ve seen fans of other teams more recently. We had some (Manchester) City fans in last night watching the game. Everybody loves watching Barcelona; everybody loves watching Real Madrid. And there’s interest in Germany too – Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund appeal to neutral fans certainly.”
“BECAUSE OF THE GLAMOUR TIES THERE’S ALWAYS INTEREST IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE.”
Champions League nights have got that prestige. “Because of the glamour ties there’s always interest. Football fans are interested in Bayern Munich v Juventus. It’s a game everyone wants to see. As a Celtic fan there’s nothing like a European night, the whole town is buzzing. Even when Rangers were doing well in the UEFA Cup, the whole city was getting behind them. But you still get big crowds in for midweek European games regardless of who’s playing.
On a typical weekend we show everything that we can. “Even if there’s rugby on or some other sport on we’ll certainly have the scores coming through ‘cause we’ll have people with their betting slips. Well, it’s not betting slips anymore it’s all done by phones, but people are in checking their coupons and stuff. There’s a massive buzz on Saturday for the football, because you’ve got Spanish games later on and there’s the late Premier League kick-off too, so if you time it right you’ve got a full day of football.”
“WE’RE VERY FAMILY-DRIVEN SO IF PEOPLE ARE TAKING THEIR KIDS TO THE GAMES THEY’LL OFTEN COME IN FOR SOME FOOD FIRST.”
We have the commentary on upstairs. “We try to keep functions upstairs on a Saturday to 7.45pm so we can show the late Premier League match.”
We do get a lot of folk in before games. “If the game kicks off at 3pm people come in for food. We’re very family-driven so if people are taking their kids to the games – even Partick Thistle too, we have to give them a mention – they’ll often come in for some food first.”
We don’t want to alienate anyone. “We do specials on wine for instance so we’ll often have groups of women in and we don’t want them put off. We can switch to a slide show to advertise promotions, specials etcetera for drinks or food. We can easily change the channel over from sport to a slide show.”
“SOCIAL MEDIA IS A MASSIVE THING. A LOT OF PUBS DON’T USE IT – IT’S CRAZY. IT’S FREE PUBLICITY.”
Our main focus with social media is engaging with people. “We like sparking conversations. We’ll always use as many hashtags as we can when it comes to the football. We find that people use hashtags to find out what pubs are showing the games and we like to get on that. We use sandwich boards too. Social media is a massive thing. A lot of pubs don’t use it – it’s crazy. It’s free publicity. Pubs that don’t use it are really missing a trick.”
We’re focussed on TripAdvisor. “We’re in the top 50 of eateries in Glasgow – and that’s from a pool of 2,000. I think we’re 46th. It’s not just about the reviews though; it’s about replying to all the comments within a day or two. We have to, because more and more people are using it to gauge a place, especially if they’re trying something new. A lot of people mention TripAdvisor when explaining why they’ve come in. We encourage people to comment too.”
It’s not just football. “The rugby is popular and we get a decent crowd in for the golf. We really pushed the Cheltenham Festival this year, because people like their racing here. Darts too.”
Club rugby is a big thing. “The (Glasgow) Warriors have come on leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. We get a lot of people in asking if we’re showing the Warriors – particularly if they’re playing away from home.”
“THE STYLE OF FOOD YOU SERVE AND YOUR MENU GO A LONG WAY TO SHAPING THE ATMOSPHERE AND THE CHARACTER OF THE BAR.”
The craft beer and smokehouse food work so well together. “It reflects our style of service. It’s informal, and our food is very informal; it’s messy, very hands-on. There are kitchen rolls and wipes to be used. Probably not food for a first date. The perfect food for when games are on.
When people come in they know the food is ready to go. The food is cooked in the smokers for 12 hours and it’s kept at that temperature. So there’s speed of service there too. It’s perfect for people who might not have been coming in for food originally but are watching the game and they can order something really quickly. It’s good finger food.”
The quality of what you’d call pub grub has increased. “People have realised that the style of food you serve and your menu go a long way to shaping the atmosphere and the character of the bar. People want that unique aspect.”
Craft beer has really taken off in Scotland. “There’s a wealth of breweries here. We’re not exclusively Scottish – we do the odd brewery from down South – but there is so much choice here. We have four rotational craft beer taps and we have three rotational cask ales. At anytime we like to have a good diversity of price, ABV, style of beer and breweries. The craft beer really works with the smoky, sticky, sweet barbecue food. A lot of these beers are very hoppy and that really cuts through those barbecue flavours.
Craft beer has gone way beyond the hipsters. “Massively so. Because we’ve got the firm favourites – Tennant’s, Guinness, things like that – we’re very conscious that we wanted a range of craft beer, but for it to be accessible to all drinkers, from all backgrounds. So, yes, when you think of craft beer you might think of guys with beards, but it’s not like that at all. We have these gateway beers too – beers that are a cross between a lager and an IPA. We give away tasters too – to bring people over to the dark side of craft beer (laughs)! It’s all about having a mixture of beers. It comes back to that balance again.”
When Japan beat South Africa in the Rugby World Cup everyone was a Japanese fan for the night. “We had a lot of people in that day. The bar was full, the restaurant was full, and we had a big group upstairs, so there was a buzz in the bar. It was just a game that was on, some people were watching it but there was no real tie to either team. But in the last 20 minutes everyone was up and glued to the screens. We had it on every single screen. Everyone was cheering on Japan. I had folk jumping on me. It was weird, it descended into madness.”
When Scotland play we have our special Scottie Dog on. “It’s a hot dog covered in haggis. When Scotland played Germany we had that on and the Kaiser dog – a hot dog covered in sauerkraut.”
We’ll do something special for Euro 2016. “We’ll have some interaction between the food and sport. We’ll have some promotions on. On the craft beer side of things we might have some German beers in and get others in that reflect some of the teams that are competing.”
We take contactless payments. “We’ve also looked at apps that allow you to order your drinks from your table. And while we haven’t signed up yet I certainly think it’s something we’ll look at again in the future. We’ve started doing things like takeaways too. It’s about keeping ahead of the game.”
It’s not just about serving alcohol anymore. “I keep harking back to that balance, but it really is important. You could be part of one group in here having some drinks, your pals could be next door having some food and you could have mates upstairs watching the football. You can have three totally different experiences in the night. We cater for lots of different people. I think if you’re very, very good at one thing then by all means keep going, but for a lot of pubs they’re getting very good at more than that.”