Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand told MCA’s The Pub Conference that pub operators must adapt to treating customers as ‘professional purchasers’.

Delivering the key note speech at the event this week, Anand stressed that operators large and small needed to guard against the reputational damage that online comments could spark. He also said that the success of online delivery firms such as Just Eat and Deliveroo had ramifications for the pub trade.

Anand said that pubs could still learn from some of the practices put into place by retailers but that success for publicans lay in combining professionalism with personality.

Anand told the audience at Banking Hall it was vital to never forget “the point of the pub”.

He said: “We can do many things under the roof of a pub that might look like a restaurant but the really crucial trick is to understand why the pub exists in the first place. You go there to connect. You go there for a high tempo or a low tempo experience. The food and drink and everything that goes with it are an adjunct. The point is the social connection.

“One of the other reasons I feel positive about the pub is because we have a real opportunity to do things that other industries have already done. If you think about supermarkets and fast food restaurants they have all professionalised over the last 10 years or so. The perception of them as an employer is vastly improved.

“But one thing we can do is invite people to bring their personality to work with them. They can be professional but with personality. That’s not something supermarkets can do because ultimately consumers don’t want that level of interaction in a supermarket but they do in a pub.”

He said that the “balance of power” between customers and operators had changed as consumers became more demanding and the internet enabled them to seek out exactly what they wany.

He said: “The internet and smartphones have turned customers into professional purchasers. Just like the procurement people in our business they can compare prices and benefits and they are willing to change their behaviour to fit in with what they find out.”

He added: “The internet has undoubtedly presented challenges to our industry, as it has to everyone. But, I don’t believe it has been the same kind of disruptive force that it has been in areas like grocery and the high street. I’d argue that no one really likes doing their weekly shop and if someone else can do it for them and deliver it to their door for no extra cost, why would people not use the internet for that. When it comes to a pub, people still crave that social connection and pubs are still the best place to find that.

“I do think that the pub sector should take note of the rise of Just Eat and Deliveroo but I don’t mean that we should all be offering up fish and chips in poorly conceived packaging delivered direct to our customers. The big message for us as pub operators is that people are prepared to stay at home on a Saturday and go out on a Tuesday instead.”