I’ve recently visited a couple of freehouses that may show a new source of business skills for the licensed trade (as my publican grandad called it). Very different pubs but equally well run from a customer angle.
I was told by my mum (daughter of an Allsopps’ maltster) that I was taking her to a carvery for lunch. Definitely not my cup of beer, this was going to be all plastic food and smooth beer. As ever my mum was right about The Greyhound at Woodville. (One for retiredmartin, Woodville has a road called The City.)
The food was freshly made, very tasty and tremendous value. The 100 seat restaurant area was almost full on a Monday lunchtime with grey hairs much in evidence but also clearly the place to be dragged along by an elderly parent. It was very friendly service but business efficient with plenty of IT in use for ordering.
And although most drinking was keg and soft drinks, there was clearly enough throughput in the restaurant and adjoining bar to produce a decent pint of Pedigree. But perhaps that’s what you should expect from a chain, although as far as I’m aware the only other pub in this chain is The Mason’s Arms at nearby Donisthorpe. The owners clearly know how to run a hospitality business.
Secondly on our travels to the North Pennines we stopped in Barnard Castle for lunch and randomly selected the Old Well Inn, another free house. Friendly welcome from the family and beers ordered. Pleasantly, I was asked if I wanted any crisps or nuts with the drinks – that’s what I like, a business that seeks add-ons. My thoughts – this is someone used to running a business.
The beers (Mother’s Ruin from Mithril and Guzzler from York) were in excellent condition, as I suspect even the TT Landlord might have been. The food included the home-cooked Butter Chicken, curry of the day. Best curry in a pub ever by far. Bit of a clue there. As I was tucking into the curry and had guzzled the Guzzler there was an enquiry as to whether I wanted another beer bringing over. Now I’m thinking, note to pubcos – don’t bother running training courses for new licensees – just send them here to be customers. They’ll learn more.
Beers were praised and the son talked knowledgeably about the beers and keeping them in condition and holding them back until they’re ready to go on the bar. As Mrs WM complained about her failure to order curry it was suggested we should call in for lunch on the return trip home or perhaps come up and stay for their curry nights. Tempting sales pitch.
Unlike incompetent referee Keith Stroud at St James’ Park, the licensees of these freehouses really do know what they are doing. What’s the secret to running free houses in a difficult business environment? Well for a start both pubs are run by Indians (by birth/origin) with business experience. And as Mrs WM suggested it’s no bad thing to run a freehouse with a committed hard-working family in tow. Friendly welcomes, efficient business practices, and excellent soft sell techniques will win over customers. And perhaps as it becomes difficult to bring in chefs from the sub-continent and running Indian restaurants loses its appeal, there’s a chance that we have a new source of skilled pub operators coming into view. I hope so, we need them.