Build A Sense of Community, Vol I
The common thread of all successful hotels, bars and pubs but what exactly is it?
There is one common thread to all successful pubs and bars. They have an atmosphere, a buzz or a good feel about them. Call it what you want all these attributes make up a sense of community. When I speak of 'Sense of community' I am referring to the experience of community rather than the physical structure or setting of the traditional community.
All venues have a sense of community to varying degrees and the best venues have it in spades. The key to increasing and keeping your patronage is to improve this overall sense of community. There maybe many groups represented within a single venue that will all have varying degrees of this sense of community. For instance in one corner of a bar there maybe a group of five friends who went to school together, support the same teams and meet in the bar together at a set time every week. The sense of community in this group, one would imagine is very strong. Two other people just enter the bar. They are new to the town and know nobody in the bar. They have never been to this bar before. The sense of community for these two newcomers would be much less than the other group of friends.
To improve your overall sense of community you need to increase the overall sense in each group and this may require a different approach for each group.
But before you can improve any function in your venue you have to identify where it is now and have an idea of where you want it to go.
So how do you measure the sense of community of the individual groups who frequent your establishment?
McMillan and Chavis in their 1986 work describe four components of 'sense of community' that I have listed below-Membership -- This is a feeling that one has invested part of oneself to become a member and therefore has a right to belong. Influence -- This is a bi-directional quality. For a person to want to be part of the group they have to feel they have an influence on the group, and influence of the group on the individual is needed for cohesion.Integration and fulfillment of needs -- Members feel rewarded in some way for participating.Shared Emotional Connection -- This is based on a shared participation and shared history or at least an identification with the history.
How do these attributes apply to your venue?
Membership has five main attributes. The level of membership depends how strong and to what degree the following attributes are fulfilled. Each attribute works to reinforce the others leading to an even stronger feeling of membership.
Boundaries are set by the establishment and the patrons. These include the physical boundaries of the venue or a space within the venue. It also includes things like dress, language and rituals indicating who belongs and who does not.
Emotional safety - how comfortable do your patrons feel in your venue with your staff and with each other. Are they confident that they can voice their views without ridicule? They won't be picked on or the butt of jokes.
A sense of belonging and identification -- A patron feels part of the group rather than a spectator looking in. A patron with a sense of belonging feels he is participating in the activities in your venue rather than watching from the sideline. When a patron enters a new venue for the first time they look around the venue summing up the environment and the other patrons. At this stage they are very much the new-comer with little or no sense of belonging. Conversely a patron who has frequented the venue over time may become very comfortable. Coming to your venue is like coming home.
Personal investment -- when a patron sets time aside specifically to be at your venue for an event, such as to be a member in the darts or pool team, or just to meet with friends at a set time he is making a personal investment either financially, physically or mentally and his level of membership increases.
A common symbol system -- A common symbol that identifies the members, this can be as clear as a shirt or cap with a common logo, such as the pub name. It could be the supporter colors of a local sports team. The use of a particular type of glass or brand of beer. (It's what we drink here) If the symbol is common to many patrons then this increases the membership level.
The five attributes reinforce each other and together make up the level of membership in your pub community. For instance in a venue over time clear rules are set by the patrons about the tone, type and topic of language that is acceptable in that venue. Members aware of these boundaries feel free talk within them without ridicule or rejection increasing their emotional safety and sense of belonging. The more they belong the more the group will ask them to join in activities, and in doing so the patron increases their personal investment of time and commitment. He may then start to share common symbols, a team shirt for the darts or bowling competition. He may join the 100 pint club or start drinking a brand of beer that is common to the group.
As the patron stays longer at the venue he accepts the norms of the group and may start to have in influence on the group, resetting or realigning boundaries, introducing new symbols.
A long standing member maybe asked to help set-up a competition, a quiz night for example increasing his sense of belonging by being asked and increasing his personal investment by accepting.
He may gain status in the venue by becoming a top pool player or just a well liked and respected member. The reinforcement he gets from other members means he continues to do things that have gotten him this new status satisfying his integration and fulfillment needs.
There are many ways to introduce these components into your venue, none better than the traditional pub quiz.