Behaviour Change for Pubs and Bars

First published: 10 October 2016 | Last updated: 27 March 2019

Changing the behaviour of individuals (e.g. patients or consumers) to improve their health and wellbeing is a well-established topic of research. Behaviour change of businesses – or at least their owners and managers – is a far less studied issue.

Club Soda, a social business supporting people with alcohol misuse issues, has been working to change the behaviours of a very particular group of small businesses; pubs and bars in Hackney, east London. Our “Nudging Pubs” project started with a year of research and experiments in 2015. In 2016 we are putting our findings to the test by developing “The Club Soda Guide”, a product which aims to nudge licensed venues to be more welcoming to their customers who want to drink less alcohol, or none at all.

The website will allow pubs and bars to complete a short self-assessment on their low and no alcohol drinks choice. This is complemented by customer reviews and ratings. Built into the website will also be suggestions on how the venues can improve. Our hypothesis is that given all this information (and the peer pressure from seeing the scores for other local venues), pubs and bars will make changes to their operation.

The project has made use of two theoretical foundations: a taxonomy of behaviour change tools, and a typology of nudges. First, Professor Susan Michie from University College London’s Centre for Behaviour Change led a team who categorised all the behaviour change techniques they could find in a literature search. They identified 93 separate techniques across 16 categories. For example, their first two categories cover the fundamental and commonly-used techniques of setting goals, planning ahead, feeding back, and monitoring progress.

For the pubs and bars project, we mapped our recommendations against the taxonomy and the relevant behaviour change techniques, to identify the most promising actions. For example, the recommendation to share ideas and best practice among the venues consists of six techniques from “Instruction on how to perform the behaviour” to “Social comparison”.
The second theoretical foundation comes from Cambridge University’s Behaviour and Health Research Unit (BHRU). They have devised a typology for “choice architecture interventions in micro-environments”, or “nudges” for short. There are nine types of nudges in this scheme:

  • Ambience (aesthetic or atmospheric aspects of the environment)
  • Functional design (design or adapt equipment or function of the environment)
  • Labelling (or endorsement info to product or at point-of-choice)
  • Presentation (sensory properties & visual design)
  • Sizing (product size or quantity)
  • Availability (behavioural options)
  • Proximity (effort required for options)
  • Priming (incidental cues to alter non-conscious behavioural response)
  • Prompting (non-personalised info to promote or raise awareness)

The first five types change the properties of objects, the next two the placement of them, and the final two both the properties and placement.

Although not directly included in the pubs and bars project outcomes, this typology was still useful at the design stage, for thinking about the factors that could be used to assess pubs and bars. For example, some basics like the choice of non-alcoholic / low-alcohol drinks is about “Availability”, and the display of non-alcoholic drinks could be “Presentation”, “Proximity” and also “Priming”.

The challenge for the pubs and bars project now is to move from these behaviour change techniques and nudges to shifting how licensed venues actually operate. We already know it won’t be easy, but this theoretical framework will also help us evaluate the project’s success.

Further reading:

Gareth J Hollands, Ian Shemilt, Theresa M Marteau, Susan A Jebb, Michael P Kelly, Ryota Nakamura, Marc Suhrcke and David Ogilvie: Altering micro-environments to change population health behaviour: towards an evidence base for choice architecture interventions, BMC Public Health 2013, 13:1218

Susan Michie, Michelle Richardson, Marie Johnston, Charles Abraham, Jill Francis, Wendy Hardeman, Martin P. Eccles, James Cane and Caroline E. Wood: The Behavior Change Technique Taxonomy (v1) of 93 Hierarchically Clustered Techniques: Building an International Consensus for the Reporting of Behavior Change Interventions, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 2013, 46:1

The Nudging Pubs project website is

The Club Soda website and blog can be found at

Listen to Club Soda’s co-founder, Laura Willoughby MBE, presentation at the 2015 SSA Symposium HERE


The opinions expressed in this commentary reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official positions of the Society for the Study of Addiction.