Where next for Student Union bars?

By James Nichols, head of food and beverage operations, Therme RPC

Food and beverage concepts and social space design continue to evolve and shift their place in the higher education sector.

Students are increasingly in search of appropriate, comfortable and well-designed spaces, where they can socialise, hang out and study (preferable venues with food and beverage, which offer a degree of flexibility).

Student unions are no exception and over the last half a decade or so, have started to shift their commercial direction in line with changing student needs, with a particular drive away from alcohol-led activity. The National Union of Students (NUS) vice president for union development spoke on the progression of student unions and stated that:

“Student unions are not an outdated stereotype of sticky bars filled with beer-swilling students avoiding their lectures. This is the new face of student life: profitable enterprise with a social edge.”

On the same wave, universities such as St Andrews, Aberdeen, Chester, Bristol, Canterbury and University of the West of England, offer alcohol-free accommodation with others following suit. National consensus is that one in five students are now choosing not to drink alcohol. Portsmouth, Aberystwyth, and Abertay Universities have gone as far as to close their bars and replace them with cafés and coffee offers in the last couple of years.

These apparent disruptive movements universities and unions are making, are just some of the steps being made to ensure they remain competitive and relevant in a marketplace that has unequivocally shifted in recent years.

Conversely, notwithstanding this shift in student behaviours, it is still recognised that there remains a viable marketplace for alcohol sales and late-night entertainment venues. This market however, is one which is seeking a shift from the stereotypical bars with inexpensive drinks, to a more varied, flexible and almost more sophisticated offer. The focus has become less about alcohol and is now balanced against atmosphere, aesthetics and suitability for multi-purpose use.

The development and shift of student union offers has resulted in the creation of ‘Student Hubs’: places which deliver a vibrant, supportive and social experience, driven by core student union value.

Find us on LinkedIn at Russell Partnership Collection

James Nichols is head of food and beverage operations, Therme RPC


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