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The BII thrives on the diversity of its 10,000 plus members, and through case studies and interviews we're able to find out more about some of the individuals that make up our network in the licensed trade.

Click on any of the links below to read about the personal experience and benefits individuals have found since becoming members of the BII.

Emma & Terry Cole, MBII - The Royal Oak

Charity begins at home, which for Emma and Terry Cole MBII is their pub, The Royal Oak in Chapel Ash, Wolverhampton.

Having taken over the pub from Emma’s parents, Susan and Keith, five years ago, Terry left his role in distribution to join the day-to-day running of The Royal Oak. Established as a family business for 15 years, Emma and Terry (winners of the BII Heart of the Community Award, Marston’s Pub of the Year, and Licensee of the Year Award 2021 Semi-Finalists) have kept the community spirit alive with their welcoming atmosphere and unwavering support for numerous local charities. “Our main charities are the Midland Freewheelers and Little Rascals, but a lot of customers will ask us, ‘can we raise money for this?’. We always try to accommodate everyone and have raised 10s of thousands of pounds,“ says Terry.
 
Arranging charity days at least once a month, the Coles regularly join forces as a family to think up new and clever ways to bring people into the pub. Their latest fundraiser saw Emma running what’s known as the Wolves10k on March 27th and Terry will be taking part in a 22-mile trek along the beaches of Normandy on June 6, D-Day. Speaking to BII News in February, Terry explained: “After Emma’s run in March, we are planning a music afternoon to get people to congregate at the pub afterwards. We’re aiming to raise £1,000, which would keep the Freewheelers’ fleet running for at least a month or two.”

 

No pressure on Emma, then, who only eight months ago couldn’t have run for more than one minute. But it was a conversation with a customer that gave her the inspiration and motivation to run for the charity. “I’m completely addicted to running now. I’ve put up my JustGiving page and the donations have been rolling in.” Helped, no doubt, by the local Express & Star newspaper running an article about their charity challenges. Christmas saw Emma and Terry organising shoeboxes to be filled with presents for the local homeless community, including gloves, hats, scarves, toothbrushes, sweets, chocolate and coffee. Terry says: “Everyone got the same items and Emma and I spent many a Monday on our quiet days in the pub, filling the boxes, wrapping them and getting them ready to go. We sent out 120 parcels with the help of locals, donating through our collection box.”

There’s a real community feel about this traditional, wet-led pub, where events, like those for charity, successfully bring everyone together, with regulars checking in to see how Emma’s race training is going, but also to see how they can get involved. In lockdown, Terry had an idea to walk from The Royal Oak in Carlisle, to The Royal Oak in Truro. This journey of 425 miles came to a fitting end in the car park of The Royal Oak, Wolverhampton, keeping to the lockdown travel rules at the time. “It was everyone’s chance to get some exercise in and socialise while remaining socially distanced. We raised £1,500 – the pub wasn’t even open, yet people would still pop by to donate some money.”

While fundraising for charity is at the heart of what makes Terry and Emma tick, they still need to ensure that the bills are paid and pints keep being pulled. By keeping set-up costs low, the couple find success with their events, achieving takings of between £1,000-£1,500 each time. Entering the BII’s Licensee of the Year Award in 2021, and reaching the semi-finals, the couple say the experience benefitted them, not least thanks to the comments of the head judges, trade experts, Sue Allen CBII and Paul Pavli CBII. They advised the couple to take more time for themselves and to get out of the business to sample what the competition was up to, in order to gain a broader customer perspective. “The problem we have is, that we are so tied to the pub; we’re passionate about it and want to be here overseeing everything to make sure we’re doing it right. This means that we sometimes neglect to go out and experience new things,” admits Terry.

Despite their Christmas trading period being affected by the couple catching Covid, they say they remain in a financially stable position, thanks in part to grants from their local council – most recently the Omicron Hospitality & Leisure Grant. They also benefit from the pub’s proximity to the Molineux stadium, which brings in 300 to 500 people on match days. Increasing the footprint of the pub has also helped to build turnover. A marquee and outdoor bar has helped establish the outside space, providing a bonus for spring and summer.

“It has been a real benefit to us because word has spread about our cover and heaters. No one wants to be standing outside on match days, so everyone’s coming to us and we’re getting busier and busier,” says Terry. Investing money in the bar to ensure it would work outside, long after restrictions were lifted, was key to boosting customer confidence more than anything.

Emma proudly adds: “Our outside bar now matches our inside bar, in terms of the offer. Customers now have the full choice of beers. It started small, with only two hand pours, but we’ve made it bigger and put a roof on it. It has been a long process, but essentially we had to bring the piping up from the cellar.“

Having spoken to their Area Manager, Marston’s gave the project the go-ahead and supported them by helping to make the necessary cellar changes. Training the staff “the Oak Way” has also helped create success, which Terry says has been all down to Emma finding the best people to come and work for them. Emma explains: “The Oak Way is to be happy, to care about your customers and have quick service. It’s about making people feel welcome when they walk through the door.“ With plans for summer music festivals and their version of the Great British Bake Off in the pipeline, the Coles are looking forward to a good summer and are feeling confident for the future.

Terry says: “We serve good beer and keep it to a really high standard. That’s what our customers want. They like our consistency. We serve an award-winning mild, The Banks’s Mild, and that’s going well – it’s not a fashionable drink, but we’re doing three 72s per week. It always does well.“ Another bestseller is Marstons’ Sunbeam, which Terry describes as “an absolutely amazing drink”.

He says: “You can see people’s faces change when they taste beer this good. They’re happy to pay our prices because we keep a clean, well-maintained cellar and serve great tasting and well-presented beers.” Terry and Emma have community at the heart of everything they do, whether that’s boosting local charities through fundraising, getting stuck in with creating care packages for the local homeless community or welcoming new and established customers. “The Oak Way” is clearly a sturdy and well-built road to success for this pair.

 

Darren & Charlotte Nash, MBII - The Red Lion

Having moved into the business on the day the country was first thrust into lockdown, Darren and Charlotte Nash, MBII quickly set about transforming The Red Lion, a St Austell tenancy in Cricklade, Wiltshire – a historic coaching inn, the pub boasts five letting rooms, regular beer festivals and even has its own on-site brewery, The Hop Kettle. 

Darren has spent his whole life in-and-around pubs, with many happy memories of learning the trade from his licensee grandparents. So, when he and Charlotte got together (11 years ago), the couple decided to have a go at running their own. “We did four years in a little pub in Alton in Staffordshire, where we’re both from, and then we did a little ‘messing around’ in outside catering and wedding functions.”

Always having their sights set on a venue in Cornwall, the couple got in touch with Chris Faulkner MBII, Business Development Manager (BDM) at St Austell Brewery. He had a pub in mind for them, The Red Lion in Cricklade, which was further north than they had hoped for, as it’s nearer to Swindon than their desired Cirencester, but they decided to give it a go. “We had this ideal scenario in our heads, which was to move down there and open up as soon as we’d moved our stuff in. But as soon as we had completed the handover, the news on the TV announced we were going into full lockdown.“

Turning this major blow into something positive, the husband and wife team used this period to refurbish the venue (including its letting rooms). “After making the flat our own, we set to work on the pub. Like a typical 16th century venue, it was in need of a bit of TLC. We installed new carpets throughout, new flooring and decorations, installed pizza ovens in the kitchen and then I built an outside bar in anticipation of reopening. We did 90% of the work ourselves, apart from the floor and some help with the bar,” says Darren.

With a beer garden that boasts 200 covers outside, Darren also created an all-weather outside structure and is now building an ice cream stall to attract passers by. “The ice cream parlour is my next mini project. It will be a permanent space with a concrete base and sort of shed-like structure. I’m going to install a hatch on the front with a glass fronted freezer, so customers can walk up and choose ice creams through the glass. We’ve made connections with a lovely local ice cream company in Swindon called Rays.”

Having taken over £1,200 on the May bank holiday weekend last year in ice cream sales alone, it’s clear to see why this is the latest project in Darren’s repertoire. “There’s plenty of space and lots of people walking in the area, so it will do well to attract families and young children,” he says proudly. With Charlotte concentrating on front-of-house, Darren plays to his strengths in the kitchen and the cellar. His latest menu successes were his “fakeaways”, which involved a healthy twist on Chinese, Greek, Deep South and Jamaican street food.

“They all sold out, so I did a celebration of my takeaways for New Year’s Eve, amalgamating them and taking the best bits. It was £35 per head for a worldwide tapas evening.“ Although it was time consuming work, Darren worked to a GP of 75%, which was achieved through preparing everything himself, leaving his chefs to carry on doing what they needed to do – using the best value produce to create wholesome street food flavours. When it comes to changing menus, Darren recognises that the business’ strengths lie in its ability to keep changing. 

“I’ve got the attention span of a five year-old, so my menu is always changing,” he explains. “We’ve got a heavy wet trade, a huge beer garden and the best food, but I think fine dining is not where we’re headed in future. It’s successful in the winter, but for the summer, it’s sandwiches in the day and burgers, pizzas and steaks all night. That’s where the money is.” Speaking to Darren and Charlotte in February, still in the midst of ‘pie weather’, as Darren calls it, the menu featured classic comfort foods. “I’ve got a beautiful belly of pork on with dauphinoise, pepper sauce and braised red cabbage. I also do a different pie each week, steak, ale and mushroom, at the minute. This weekend, it’ll be a venison bourguignon pie, which sells for £16.”

Recognising where his best profits are, Darren explains: “I know full well if I’ve got a fillet steak on the menu, the GP is only going to be 52%, but with a pie, I’m potentially going to be using Sunday Roast meat leftovers and I know it’s going to be hitting 80% GP. “It’s the same with the bar, I couldn’t make 60% GP on Champagne, but I can make 72% on a Prosecco.” Although tied tenants with St Austell, Darren is happy with their excellent choice of beer, thanks to their Hop Kettle brewery. “I’m able to buy four products, as part of our agreement, so we’ve got 10 cask lines, 10 keg lines, plus my outside bar. My best sellers are a Pale Ale, a Best Bitter, Element or North Wall. I run two guest ales every week and then normally we have two or three St Austell products and Bath Ales,” he says.

The Hop Kettle is an asset that helps to market the pub. It came about after Tom Gee, founder of Hop Kettle, who originally owned the pub sold it off to concentrate on opening new microbreweries in Swindon and Cirencester. “Customers come here just to sample the Hop Kettle beers, it’s a really unique selling point.” Its popularity led Darren to set-up yearly beer and musical festivals. “This year is going to be bigger and better. I’ll have 40 real ales, 8 or 10 bag-in-box ciders, 10 keg products.”

Tickets cost £10, which buys visitors a wristband, a festival glass, a programme and your first drink free. “The £10 covers my costs plus an extra three quid. We had 800 to 900 people over the weekend. We’ve jiggled the bands around a bit and hopefully they’ll bring their following.“ Darren and Charlotte have a lot to look forward to, come the warmer months. With beer festivals, ice cream offerings and recognising the seasonal tastes of customers, the summer sun will shed light on the hard work they put in all year round to boost the business.

Chris Simon, MBII - The White Hart Hotel

A ‘Local pub with character’, The White Hart Hotel in the Market Town of Modbury (between the Devon coast and Dartmoor National Park) has become a cooking playground for St Austell tenant, Chris Simon, MBII. 

After a career as a chef on super yachts, cooking up luxurious fare for the uber wealthy, Chris wanted to start his own business. “I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be based, but my father lives up the road from The White Hart and when I saw it was vacant, I knew it was a big space and it felt like it would be a good opportunity,” he explains, adding that “it’s a playground for me to cook whatever I want”.
While Chris’ focus is very much on cooking, out of necessity he has been forced to venture out of the kitchen to work on the bedrooms, learning new skills along the way – as a plumber, electrician, tiler and interior decorator. “We cleaned up everything we could. We kept all the old tables, cleaning and polishing them to make the best of what we had,” he says. “We even fitted a brand new kitchen, but just two months in, we were hit by lockdown.”

As they come out the other side of the pandemic, Chris spoke to BII News in February, just as he was preparing to reopen in time for Valentine’s Day, after a quiet December and January. “We decided to limit opening hours and focus on improving the pub, whilst it was quiet. We’re putting new bathrooms into the upstairs bedrooms,” he says. With a heavy focus on the food, it comes as no surprise that The White Hart’s offer is 60% in favour of food, 20% rooms and 20% drinks.
 

And Chris’ Valentine’s Day menu showed that when it comes to the food, nothing is too much, with his ‘I've got my HART set on you’ starters, ‘My HART skips a beat’ main courses and ‘You’re my sweetHART’ desserts. At £40 per person, or £45 for the beef fillet, Chris consistently works to a GP of 70%, with guests usually spending between £50-60 per person – but with bills up to £300 for a special occasion, should guests choose Champagne to go with their lobster. “People who come to us tend to order starter, main, dessert and a bottle of wine but, of course, there are also customers who come in for fish and chips and a coffee. It varies, and we’re glad to be able to cater for a wide variety,” he explains.

As a destination pub, customers are happy to travel from Plymouth Totnes to celebrate an anniversary or birthday at The White Hart. “It feels great because we know we’re worth travelling for. Because we’re in a town that already has two other oldie local’s pubs, there’s no point in treading on their toes. The pub across the road has been doing pie and chips for the last 20 years and people love it. There's no point in me trying to compete.
“By doing the food that we do and offering the level of service we have, we’ve carved out our point-of-difference,” he says. Being careful to ensure the pub fits into its local surroundings, Chris has turned to a French farmhouse style inside. He adds: “There would be no point in us painting it bright, elaborate colours and having strobe lights everywhere. We try to complement the surrounding businesses, while still adding value to the town.”

Becoming a chef wasn’t always on Chris’ radar, in fact, he got his first job in a kitchen peeling potatoes and chopping onions aged 20. He was quickly recognised for his spark, and was given responsibility for looking after the desserts. This ignited a passion in him for patisserie, which was further fed when he went to the Ashburton Cookery School. “When I get a bee in my bonnet about learning how to do something, I just get on and do it as much as I can. In our kitchen, it’s just myself and my apprentice and so we do things like butchering our own meats, which is something I learned from butchers in France,” says Chris. “Doing our own butchery offers us more control with GP: it’s not just about portion sizes, but about how it looks on the plate. It also means we can use the trimmings from steaks to make pies, or cook the fatty trim into sauces. Nothing goes to waste. We basically get a free sauce or pie from doing it all ourselves.”

When creating a new menu, Chris says he looks back at his bestsellers from previous menus, noting down great flavour combinations that might have caused something to sell incredibly well. “We do begin with the classics, like fish and chips, but we make our own chips, tartare sauce and batter. With our burgers, we make the bun, the patty, the pulled pork, chutney, barbecue sauce and the potato hash that goes in the burger.”

Success is about building around the basics. He explains: “Every good pub should offer steak. I often use fillet because it’s low in fat and we can add flavour with butter, thyme, garlic and rosemary. We use the bones from the joints we butcher to make stocks and sauces too.” Chris’ love for good food becomes ever more obvious as he enthusiastically talks about how he structures his menus, starting with the meat, then adding texture with purees and seasonal vegetables. “Now We're heading into spring we’ll use things like the beautiful asparagus that’s available to us, and we'll just keep changing the dish to suit the seasons. If the produce is more abundant, it’ll be cheaper for us too.”

Achieving all this between himself and his apprentice, Chris outlines his approach to training. “My apprentice started off peeling potatoes and vacuum-packing meat and fish, to keep them in good condition, so that he learns to respect the products. Every time we make something new, he's learning and he has come on quite quickly. “I know I can trust him to make the bread rolls, sorbet and to get everything weighed out for me and the more technical dishes.”

When it comes to learning and support for his apprentice, Chris Couldn't be more engaged and excited: “The hospitality industry is used as a stepping stone far too much, so it's important to support staff who are passionate about becoming chefs and staying in our industry. We really want to preserve the hospitality industry in this country by making it better, which is all about finding great people who want to work in it.” These are sentiments the BII shares with Chris, as we work to promote how hospitality can enrich the lives of customers, community members, suppliers and those who share in our collective passion.

 

Chris and Jason Black, MBII -The Pityme Inn

Jason and Chris Black MBII are the winners of the BII Licensee of the Year Award 2021. BII News’ Editor Kate Oppenheim CBII spoke to Chris about their achievement and goals for the year ahead.

What does it mean to you both to be crowned winners of the BII’s Licensee of the Year Award 2021? 
 
Winning has been a massive achievement for us, bearing in mind that we have only been licensees of our own business for three years. Receiving recognition from industry experts, especially during this time when the sector has been so hard hit, made it all the more intense. It has been a rollercoaster of emotions getting through to the finals, with each stage of the competition giving us an opportunity to reflect upon our business and everything that we have achieved. 
 
What are the stand out successes of your business over this last year? 
 
Our ethos is always to keep going. When the pandemic hit, we started to do meals-on-wheels and with a team of volunteers, we delivered up to 200 meals twice a week to the vulnerable, disabled and old people living locally. It was important to us that we kept the supply chain going, as we recognised that our suppliers were really struggling.  We started offering takeaways too, fish and chips on a Friday and roasts on Sunday, as we saw it was important to give our customers a break from the monotony and boredom of cooking at home every day.
 
Everything we achieved during lockdown has helped us build a better business moving forward. For instance, when we first reopened our garden for trade in April 2021, we had the single biggest sales day on record. Doing what we did gave people a reason to want to come back and we made them all very welcome. We also opened our shop, which focuses on selling local produce to our community. It’s a farm-shop style offer, that has a strong environmentally sound ethos, for instance, we sell milk in glass, returnable bottles, that people bring back for refilling. We also stock our frozen ready meals and it has been so successful that it has become a permanent fixture, utilising an area of the pub that wasn’t particularly well used before.
 
With three sites in Cornwall with St Austell – the Pityme Inn, Rock; the Lugger Inn, Polruan; and the Weavers Inn, Bodmin – we also launched our new app, called Cornish Inns. This allows our guests to collect reward points, order click-and-collect takeaways and access exclusive deals, as well as our ‘pay at the table’ facility, and get information on upcoming events. Ultimately it gives them access to everything they need to know about our pubs and encourages repeat visits. We see it as a great way to future proof our business and is another initiative we’d like to share with our fellow BII members. 
 
How are you ensuring your business is sustainable, not only for now, but for the next two to three years? 
 
We have invested a lot in new systems over the last six months, to give us better control over our GPs and stock, and to get all of the elements of the business interlinked. In terms of environmental sustainability, we are looking to grow more of our own produce, like herbs, to avoid having to buy in pre-packed goods in plastic, and we invested in an electric vehicle to deliver our takeaways. Reducing waste and food miles is key, which means we keep our menu seasonal and try to use local suppliers.  

What pearls of wisdom and inspiration would you like to share with our members?
 
It would be to always think about your business in terms of having a long-term strategy. We view our business as a career for us and our team. We try not to take on seasonal staff, but employ a full-time team throughout the year, as we believe seasonal staff are less engaged with the business. We look to promote and develop our people through the business from team member to assistant manager and onto general manager, and we move people around the three pubs too, to give them the broadest experience possible. While we are in a heavily touristy area, we work hard not to alienate our locals during the peak seasons. In winter, we diversify more and hold a Christmas market, along with themed nights, live music, etc, to create a meeting and social space for our locals. It’s not just about the food and drink. These days, it’s very easy for people to drift from one pub to another restaurant, and so on, but we place huge value on developing and growing our brand for the long-term. We keep our brand relevant and engaging all year, making it as easy as possible for people to want to return to us.

 

Our branding has been created to have a broad appeal – it is as applicable to the high end, second home owners, as to the camp site visitors on a tight budget, and it is for the locals too.  We also do a lot on social media. We have also started using a software system called Feed It Back, which provides a dashboard of all social media engagements. It identifies any recurring issues and also makes it easy to gather the positive messages. You are given an overall score at the end of each week too, which provides a good guide to what you’re doing well and what’s going wrong. Facing up to any problems is important, because if things are wrong, you need to own it. If you’re getting four out of five, it’s about working to achieve five out of five. 
 
What do pubs and the wider hospitality sector mean to you? 
 
Both Jason and I have grown up in and around pubs, Jason was a General Manager with Mitchells & Butlers for eight years and I have a degree in business and food, and I worked for a food importer doing product development across Europe, developing ranges for the major supermarkets. We believe that our experiences give us a wider and very balanced view of the industry. We are absolutely committed to what we do. We see hospitality, especially pubs, as vitally important to all our communities, and this has never been more true that over these past couple of years. Creating a viable and community focused business is what we are passionate about, and taking part in this awards process has helped us view the bigger picture and see things with fresher eyes too.
 
We, as a sector, need to make pubs more viable and work to create outlets that are seen as being vital in providing community support and valuable, long-term careers. Hospitality workers should feel proud to go to work every day. As an industry, we need to cultivate and grow the next generation of licensees: we need fresh, new blood to create even better venues for future generations.  Getting out of your business to visit other venues can be an eye opener. We get out every week and encourage our staff to use other venues too – we pay for them to go to and drink/eat elsewhere, and when they come back, we ask them to tell us about it – what they liked or what they would change.  All this means we have a high level of staff retention, with 10 of our team members having relocated from M&B in London to Cornwall.
 
As the winners of LOYA, you will have the ear of the industry, its governing bodies and even the Government. What will be the key messages you’d like to get across? 
 
It’s that hospitality needs to be seen as a career. We all need to make hospitality even more relevant to new candidates and better promote everything this industry has to offer. Also, sustainability – both financial and environmental. Everyone should be growing their business year-on-year, while also looking to be more sustainable: being greener is a selling point.
 
Finally, it wouldn’t be the ‘Oscars’ of the licensed trade without giving you the opportunity to thank those who have had the greatest impact on your success…
 
Fundamentally our teams have got us through the tricky times. We couldn’t have done any of this without them. Also, St Austell has been hugely supportive and the BII has been really helpful, both in terms of advice about growing our business and also career development for our teams.
 
As winners of the Licensee of the Year Award, Jason and Chris Black MBII will receive a year’s free pubs and clubs subscription to Sky Sports, £500 towards a party in their pub to celebrate with their staff and a model of their pub created by artist Bunty May Marshall to commemorate their win.
 
BII's Licensee of the Year Award is a yearly competition for personal licence holders to receive the tools to help assess and develop their business, as well as working towards the accolade of LOYA winner. Click here to learn more.

Paul Clarke, MBII - The Lifeboat Inn

When The Lifeboat Inn in Shirehampton, Bristol, became available in Autumn 2020, Paul Clarke MBII and eight friends got together to take on the lease. BII's Eleanor Golding MBII spoke to Paul about why the group became involved and how important it was for them to join the BII.
Nestled a few miles outside of Bristol town centre, The Lifeboat Inn was at risk of being turned into flats, or shops, before Paul Clarke and eight of his friends approached Admiral Taverns to take on an initial six month lease.
 

"We had lots of chats between ourselves about whether or not it was a good idea. The nine of us are friends and we all vary in age, a couple are in their 60s, one in his 50s and the rest of us are in our 40s, there's even a father and son within the group," explains Paul. 

 

"We've all known each other for more than 30 years because most of us have a bit of a rugby background. That's how we know each other and the pub itself was like an extension to the rugby club. Most of us had even had our first drinks there as teenagers."

Looking back on his 18-year-old self, Paul could never have imagined taking on the pub in his adult life. Working as a full-time aircraft engineer and with other members of the Lifeboat group employed on the docks, in logistics, IT, engineering and window fitting, together they brought the practical and technical skills that are needed to manage the refit, set-up and run a pub.

"None of us were in it in order to quit our day jobs, we came together and invested an amount of money each, without really expecting to get it back. We put our money and resources into it for the good of the community."

In the years since their first pints together, Paul had noticed that the pub had been going downhill. "We thought to ourselves, 'we need to reclaim the pub a little bit'. Initially, as there was no budget to refurbish, we took it on as it was and started investing our own funds. The electrics were in a bad state and a lot of the floor joists holding up the boards were rotten. By the end of it, we were really taking the place apart," says Paul, adding that they received plenty of help from the community, from people running the pub to the many locals who were offering to drop off materials and volunteer their time.

In true community spirit, the team received anything from electrical expertise to beer and cake. All was gratefully received and it was decided that this help should get official recognition. 

"The Lifeboat Legends board is still to go up, but the principle is that if someone helped out, whether they provided paints, plumbing or cake, we would add them to the board. We used Facebook initially, posting when someone offered their support. We'd say a thank you and end with the phrase 'Your position on the Lifeboat Legends board is now secure!'"

The board, which will be like a Captain's board more usually found in sport's clubs, will be mounted on the wall, with the names displayed in no particular order.

"The footprint of our bar was something on our radar from the start. Originally the pub had a bar room and a separate lounge, but we repositioned the bar to make a more efficient use of space," says Paul.

This had had the added benefit of making more of a feature of the bar, which is created from an old lifeboat (installed in the mid=1980s). The feedback has been very positive too, especially as this unusual feature is now visible to passers-by, thereby arousing intrigue and causing people to stop or do a double take. 

In the run up to opening, Admiral Taverns provided the team with someone to provide on-site training. 

"She was helping with the layout of the pub, with things like signage, how to load the shelves and to organise everything from a practical point-of-view, even how the pub should be set up . It has been a steep learning curve. We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into, in terms of how much was involved. From CCTV and safety assessments, to fire regulations and ensuring our pricing offered us a good margin. We didn't have any experience of that."

Having joined the BII in September 2021, Paul says he and the team, alongside their Manager Kai Hopkins, have utilised the BII Staff Contract Builder and HR Helpline to help support staff.

"We're still very much hands on as well, running repairs, or making sure the tills operate properly and even that the juke box is working Whatever it might be, we're really involved in the day-to-day running of the place."

At the time of our interview, The Lifeboat Inn had been open for just five weeks. Now established into a rhythm and regularly taking on feedback from customers, the team of nine have their sights set on adding live music events (kicking off with newly signed Spencer Flay) and serving fresh pizzas from their shiny pizza oven.

George Ralph, Chris Jakeways, Martin Ackerman, Bob Hane, John Golder, Jonathan Golder, Julian Stevens, Jerry Male and Paul Clarke make up the nine men who took on the Admiral tenancy to save The Lifeboat Inn as a pub for their community. Between them, they run the pub, hold down their full time jobs and are even involved in two bands, called Half a Barrel (folk music) and The Black Crash (indie, rock).

How to Make Your Pub a Community Minded Hub:

  • Pubwatch - connect with like-minded licensees and work alongside your local council and police teams.
  • Create a group of businesses within the local community -  Paul says that working with the local businesses "means we have a partner in our community, between us we attract people in the area, or get people to stay in the area and support local."
  • Invite your local MP - showing your MP the work you do within the community can really bring your venue to the forefront of their minds when they're planning future projects.
  • Create a space for customers and community members to share their thoughts or feedback with you - this could be as part of a feedback box, an outreach program, recording feedback as you chat to customers, or encouraging comments on social media.
 

Manu Bhatt, MBII - The Queen's Head

Building his Little & Large Pub Company, Manu Bhatt MBII has achieved success with The Queen's Head, Dorking, and more recently with The Running Horses, Mickleham. Eleanor Golding MBII reports.

Before venturing into the the licensed trade, Manu Bhatt had never heard of Dorking, but following a recommendation from Iain Rippon, Fuller's Head of Operations (Tenanted), his heart became set on a pub there. 
 

"I absolutely loved the pub; the potential was huge. We took it on in February 2020, but after just three weeks, we were thrust into lockdown. It was unknown territory, but I'm an optimistic person; I always see the bright side, so I thought I would take the time to do something - try things in the pub that I couldn't have done before."
 
 A Fuller's tenancy, The Queen's Head in Dorking was the inaugural site in Manu's Little and Large Pub Company. It has since been joined by The Running Horses in Mickleham (a Brakspear tenancy), which opened in November 2021, with a third pub in Brockley, London, being added to the portfolio soon. 

 

Manu is a great believer in forging strong industry connections, which he sees as being fundamental to growing his business and success. Stunning creations orchestrate immersive worlds that are the bedrock of Manu's pub. These installations and effects are the result of collaborations with local businesses, suppliers and customers, who pitch in to help maintain the garden, and are proven to grab the attention of passers-by and lure people inside.

"My plan last year was to do a Christmas market in the teepees we have at the Queen's Head; we had everything planned and all the suppliers lined up, but with the distancing measures in place last year, it became too tricky.  The teepees have since opened and we also built an outside kitchen over lockdown, so the plan [for 2021] is for Christmas style Winter barbecues and things like that.

"When you go to a Christmas market, what do you notice? It's that smell of the mulled wine, a hog roast, German sausages and that kind of thing."

Manu recognises that when people feel inspired by their experience and find it visually appealing, they're likely to take more photos and shout louder about where they have been.

"The pub is quite deceiving, it's small from the outside but when you go inside, we've designed a pathway like the Backyard Cinema events - a beautiful walkway that leads people to the teepees. We wanted something which is weatherproof, a place we can bring food and drink to, and somewhere that is also magnificent to look at. We used lights and lots of beautiful flower arrangements to create that."

 

It's the attention to detail that is all-important in creating something truly spectacular, and which is "photogenic, clear, fresh, glamorous and different" - the ingredients for success. 

He advises: "Go outside and see what your pub looks like to people walking past. Around Christmas time last year [2020], even when we were closed, I left all the Christmas lights on and it encouraged people to come and take selfies."

With a love for interior design, Manu says he draws inspiration from the places he visits: from boutique hideaways in the Cotswolds, to the luxury of the Pig Hotels found in the New Forest, Bath and by the coast. 

"I always look to the bar as the starting point, when it comes to the interior, as this has got to be your focal point, and then I carry on the journey throughout. There was a carpet running throughout The Running Horse, so I took that up to reveal the beautiful wooden flooring beneath: it brought things to life immediately. Also, there were curtains hanging at the window, which were obscuring the view of a beautiful church opposite, so we got rid of them. Now customers can enjoy the beautiful surroundings."

Giving customers an excuse to return, as well as to pose for a photo opportunity (and in turn create more exposure for the venue on social media platforms) Manu regularly freshens up the decor in the pub, working with the team at the Kingfisher Farmhouse in Abinger Hammer to curate a seasonal floral archway for the entrance, as well as giant wreaths and table settings too. 

Once customers are enticed indoors, the dishes on the menu are a mixture between classic comfort food and items with an exciting twist. 

"Our most popular dishes are duck, a chicken kiev dish and our seafood risotto which has been recently replaced with a fish pie. We work at a GP of 70% on food and drink, and we achieve that consistently. Spend per head is at £40, we want to offer good value, but with the prices of everything going up, especially our electricity which is rising by 50% at least, we will have to make a decision on whether to take a hit on our GP or pass it onto customers."

A pragmatic strategy as financial changes are coming into effect, Little & Large draws from the wealth of Manu's life experience. Having worked around the world from an early age, he started working as an intern in an Australian hotel at the age of 16. Manu was drawn to running pubs because of how quickly he can action his ideas and adapt the business, a definite bonus as circumstances remain challenging for pubs at the moment.

Manu's Tips for Creating Atmosphere with Your Interiors

  • Keep things feeling novel by changing decorations and floral arrangements seasonally. Many companies now specialise in floral doorway arches and also paying attention to seasonal menus can be great for your bottom line and for the environment.
  • Think about your customers' touch points. View your venue from their perspective, step outside, take time to notice what you've got on your walls. Is the lighting cosy? What other venues surround your pub? Is your seating suited to the ambience you're trying to create?
  • Use the skills of local suppliers, such as florists and lifestyle shops, to inject a point of difference into your venue. You could print little cards noting where customers can buy the pieces from, or even create a social media series with them to help subsidise the cost of your decor.
 

Tim Tomlinson, MBII - Merchants 1688, The Stonewell Tap and The White Cross 

Running three venues and acting as Chair of Pub Watch in Lancaster,  BII LOYA finalist from 2017, Tim Tomlinson has been rushed off his feet for the last 18 months and says that instead of a holiday, nirvana, for him, is just a really boring few weeks of pre-Covid life.

Opening his first venue in 2004 with The White Cross, Tim quickly grew his portfolio with The Merchants 1688 in 2007. Both being tied lease agreements (The White Cross with Stonegate and The Merchants currently with Greene King), Tomlinson divulges his success in growing these businesses: “From when I bought it in 2004, [The White Cross] was doing maybe £50,000 per year, we’ve got that up to £1.4 Million now.”
 
 “A lot of that was down to us offering a really good Real Ale selection, doing good food and offering great service too… but the Real Ale was a cornerstone to that.” Nowadays, The White Cross offers 12 craft beers and 12 real ales, delivering an experience similar to offerings in big cities like nearby Manchester, which Tim puts down to going through the process of reviewing his agreement with Stonegate. 
 

 The Stonewell Tap (renamed from The Stonewell Tavern, it’s 1980s incarnation), caught Tim’s eye in 2017. He took on the venue as a freehold, for its potential to house a craft beer and real ale selection to match no other. Tim says, “The market in Real Ale offered strong growth from the early noughties to the mid-teens, but from about 2016 onwards it flattened out and I noticed it started to decline slightly. Craft beer has since been in the ascendancy, so I spotted that as a market trend and something I could differentiate myself on.” For those who prefer not to commute back after an evening of indulgence, The Stonewell also boasts an Airbnb apartment, run by Tim’s wife Lucy. 
 
 “Lucy isn’t a publican, but The Stonewell Tap is our joint business. She’s a full time social worker. But the trade has come back on the Airbnb, so that’s a nice bit of income for us when things have been difficult.”
Speaking over the phone one morning in August, Tim is keen to share the issues on the lips of everyone in our industry at the moment. 
 
 “I got a call yesterday from our food and drink supplier and all of their team have been isolating, so I’ve got to drive over to their depot and pick everything up to make things work.” With the “pingdemic” causing many businesses to close, stop serving food, or operate under stressful circumstances, Tim says that what’s particularly difficult is the loss of that charitable and forgiving feeling felt during the lockdowns.  “I read a review that said something like ‘they can get over using Covid as an excuse now, it’s over, everything’s normal now’. Hang on a second, you really don’t get this do you? We aren’t operating normally.” He continues, “Getting to a point where you’ve not got the capacity to deal with customers who want to buy food and drink from you is so difficult, after doing everything possible to grow your business for 15 years.”
 
Boosting the morale and mental health of his team, Tim says, starts with himself. “It’s important to notice if I am feeling stressed, to not try to be in denial, but to go ‘Yes, this is pretty crap actually’ and recognise that it’s okay to feel weird. “We are 20 to 30% down in sales this week but there’s no point in getting yourself more stressed about it because stress isn’t going to change that. But it does feel like 6 months’ worth of stress is all coming at once. I find talking to other people and being open about it really helps.”
 

Having a WhatsApp group with local business owners has been a great forum, not only to share best practice, but personal experiences too. A topic up for discussion is the notion of returning to bar service or balancing staff needed for table ordering. “If you’ve got three people behind the bar and 100 customers getting served, those customers will come over, take their drinks, some might bring their glasses back, come backwards and forwards to order more. But if you’ve got the same staff levels to serve 100 seated it takes a lot more time.
 
“There’s a cost implication, staff costs might rise by 30-50%, but you don’t want to alienate customers by changing price points.”
 
Tim’s tips for other licensees working towards a period of recovery is to find the right balance between exemplary service and not overreaching yourself. “On quiet days, you can always do more trade, but on busy days it’s important to recognise that you can’t overstretch. Typically, we try and upsell 10%, but if we overstepped ourselves and the service wasn’t there, we’d be worse off in 6 months’ time without our regular customers.”
 
At the moment, spend per head is up by 20-30% more each visit, with GPs on popular food items being 70% because of the continued VAT rate cut, but Tim is balancing this with the fact that staffing levels are low and pay increasing.  “We’ve essentially missed two years’ worth of training. Where you might have recruited a young kitchen porter two years ago, they could be a commis or chef de partie now, but that hasn’t happened.” With a lot to balance, bringing things back  to business essentials is how Tim is going to spend the next few months, so we’ll leave you with his sage words for recovery:
 
“It’s an old thing in business that winning a new customer costs ten times as much as keeping an old one, and it’s true. If someone comes to you every Wednesday and they have a great experience that’s good, but if they have a bad experience and never come back, it costs you a lot of money in the long term.
 
“It sounds a bland statement, but it’s key to our bottom line, you’ve just got to make sure the new ones also keep coming back and convert into regulars too.”
 
Tim tells you his BII top tips:

 

  •  “The online and email communications that we get from you are always helpful, it’s great to learn and confirm the latest changes. There have been so many bits of advice and information, but the BII have been really solid and reliable, and independent.” – Learn more here
  •  “Ringing in and speaking to the Landlord & Pub Co helpline really helped me with the MRO process that helped me to work to a new agreement that meant I could start stocking the real ale and craft beer that would suit my customers” – Call Your BII Team today on 01276 684449

Cheryl and Paul Brew, MBII - The Spanker Inn 

Star Pubs & Bars tenants, Cheryl and Paul Brew joined their newly refurbished pub, The Spanker Inn, just after the first lockdown hit. Already well established within the hearts of customers, BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to Cheryl to talk about the values that create lasting community connections in Belper, Derbyshire. 

“We opened properly on 4th July 2020, which means we missed the £35,000 support from the Government by a week. What we did receive, like the Christmas support grant, kept our heads just above water.” Having both been in the pub game for 25 years, Cheryl’s knowledge of the local area and what her customers best respond to is evidence of living most of her adult life in Derbyshire.  “It was very exciting to have Star invest in The Spanker, because it’s a very community minded village and it was great for them to see the pub company invest in their pub, in their community. It makes you very proud of what we are and where we are.”
 

 It’s clear to see that Cheryl and Paul have made an effort to connect with those around them, having recently hosted a pub quiz in aid of Andy Lathem (a local customer raising awareness of prostate cancer following his own diagnosis). “Andy set his mind of raising awareness more than money, but he was a big cricketer in his day and so did 60 in 60 (he turned 60 this year) and walked 60 boundaries round all the cricket grounds.” Raising over £800 for the charity involved hosting 12 teams for the quiz night, as well as selling raffle tickets with prizes. At the end of the night, Cheryl says, a team member came up and said, “I love what you two have done for the community.” She continues, “To hear that from somebody really warms your heart, it makes persevering through the tough times worth it, to have that feeling of love or warmth come back to you from the community.”
 
 It’s no wonder Cheryl and Paul were recipients of our Heart of the Community Award in 2020; with every event, idea and way of working, Cheryl is conscious of how it helps the people living around them. “We have a vintage day coming up, because our friend David noticed the potential in our car park. Someone we know collects vintage tractors and cars, so that was the starting point and we wanted to keep on the tradition of the old steam fair that was run each year in Belper.”
 
 On offer are market stalls selling vintage clothes and woollen creations from a lady that joins the pub’s Knit and Natter group every Thursday.  Based around the era of make-do-and-mend, a time where people would make a cardigan themselves, or repair an older one, Cheryl says that this year’s event is a softly softly approach to test the local appetite. “We’re charging stall holders £10 which we’ll donate to charity, we don’t do it for financial gain but if you’ve got an extra 50 people here, they’re going to buy cups of teas, pints, lunches, you kind of make it back that way.
 
 “We’ll be offering afternoon teas, scones, and we’re running a vintage menu in the kitchen too, corn beef hash, there’s talk of spam fritters to really get into the spirit.”
 

 As well as injecting a camaraderie and fun into the village, Cheryl and Paul also work to make things a bit easier for visitors. “There’s no shop in the village so we set one up, we’ve called it The Essential Shop. We have a great connection with the local caravan park too, they often recommend us as a lunch or dinner spot, so we thought, ‘What would we forget to pack on holiday?’. We’ve tried to think of everything!” Not stopping at holidaymakers though, Cheryl says people often stop by for a pint and pick up some tea bags on the way home too. But it’s not just ale and tea on the menu at The Spanker (which operates to a split of 30-35% food and 65-70% wet), Cheryl has thought of some savvy ways to add to profit margins while ensuring everyone is catered for. 
 
 “When we first opened, there was no food in the pub at all, we offered a very small selection and slowly built it up from discussions with our Area Manager.
 
 “Our charcuterie and cheese boards are a new, upmarket, addition because we noticed that groups often came in and ordered a few picky starters to share. We sell the boards for £14.95 so that’s a GP of 65%.”
 
 Catering for older and younger generations resulted in The Spanker’s “smaller plates” menu which sees smaller portions of the more filling main courses. “We wanted to cater for older children who perhaps want to feel a bit more grown up, or an older person who fancies a hot meal for their lunch.” Adding more options to the menu without having to carry a wider range of stock, the larger plates are priced at between £9.95 (for a larger plate of ham, egg and chips) to £10.25 (for scampi) and £5.95 for the smaller plates. Leaving customers with more room for pudding was a happy coincidence, and Cheryl is often to be found in the kitchen rustling up dessert while Paul’s interests lie in all things bar and cellar (having recently been awarded his Cask Marque plaque!)
 
 With hopes to turn a period of recovery into thriving business, Cheryl says that she’s turning her sights onto the people still too nervous to set out from self-isolation. “We need to let the ground settle for a bit, but we want to support the older people in feeling confident again. We’re setting up the luncheon club again that offers two courses for under a tenner, and planning a re-entry Afternoon Tea, a chance for people to bring their friends once a month and know that we’re still offering Covid mitigations to keep them safe.” 
 
 It’s no wonder the local community are overjoyed at the attention The Spanker is receiving, this pub turned shop, turned cafe, is lucky to have Cheryl and Paul at the helm – they’re looking after their customers in every way they can. And as one Derbyshire newspaper noted “they’re doing a smashing job.”
 
 Cheryl’s top tips for community-minded recovery:
  •  “Because we’re the only pub in the village, it has been about getting involved in the community, developing contacts in the community to work with the community. People are so grateful that their pub is open again, I think this could be the resurgence of the Great British pub it’s just finding the right way to do it for your locals.
  • “You’ve really got to offer people the best service you can give them, because so many pubs are shut and aren’t going to reopen. We need people to use them, but in encouraging that you need to give them the best quality, make it a good experience, so that they come back and use you rather than lose you.
  • “If you’re in a position like we’re in where you are the only pub in the village, you have to get involved with things, you can’t just open your doors and expect people to come in.”
 

Sophia Idjer, MBII - The Bohemian Cocktail Bar 

Currently leased through Greene King by Sophia Idjer and her business partner Blake (Mark Blake), The Bohemian Cocktail Bar is a music hub that takes inclusivity seriously. BII’s Eleanor Kirby joined Sophia on a video call to talk about working to welcome all and making their commercial kitchen do some hard graft.

Opening her first venue in August 2020, mid-pandemic, seems not to have phased Sophia Idjer who has a background in hospitality technology. Joining BII Trusted Partners, Kbox, as their European Sales Managing Director (a post Idjer has now left to focus on developing The Bohemian), Sophia says “it felt like I came home.”
 
 Speaking over Google Meets in early August, The Bohemian Cocktail bar has newly reopened free from all restrictions (after only being open for three months prior to the winter lockdown) and Sophia can only but sing pub company Greene King’s praises. “We’ve been heavily restricted. I’ve had an awful lot of support from Greene King. Our Business Development Manager is Asa Charlton, and although I think we’ve got quite a different venue to one he’s used to, he has been so supportive. All Greene King have done is try and learn and be supportive.”
 
 With no other financial support available in terms of local authority grants or Bounceback loans, Sophia is thankful for the brewery’s support on rent relief.  “Greene King have also been really helpful when we were first setting up our commercial kitchen, they helped me bring in equipment, replace older equipment, and they’ve shared some of the costs too.” Describing The Bohemian Cocktail bar as being a music venue with a focus on old school R&B, old school Garage, Reggae and Bashment music, Sophia says, “we’ve got a very different offering to anyone else in Moseley which has a very bohemian feel.
 

“The beauty of bringing in customers to our venue from all sides of Birmingham, and even London, is that other local businesses – the chip shop, the convenience store, local eateries and the taxis, get a completely new set of customers too.” Setting up the kitchen, with the help of her knowledge of Kbox brands meant that the venue could enter into the food delivery space during lockdowns and find a use for their kitchen space while the venue is closed (The Bohemian Cocktail Bar concentrates its opening hours on a Friday-Sunday schedule centred around music promoters). 
“Kbox is an absolute no brainer for a hospitality venue that has a kitchen that isn’t at full capacity. We traditionally think of bums on seats: we think of people coming in and purchasing our core business, but there’s revenue that sits within a three mile radius to your location.
 
 The most popular brands that The Bohemian Cocktail Bar uses are The Absurd Bird and The Absurd Vird (the vegan option), which Sophia says also work really well alongside sit down brunch offerings on Sundays. Currently, it makes up around 30-40% of their revenue. Quickly adapting to changing restrictions, Sophia recognised that she needed to build a package of events to boost trading on a Sunday and cater to the customers who perhaps didn’t want to finish the weekend quite so soon.  
 
 “We’re very lucky that Bohemian has a loyal set of party goers as a late night venue. Fridays and Saturdays just weren’t enough for us while we were working at a third of our capacity, so we started the Sunday Sessions which were events where you could go with a little bit of a hangover, but still dress up and party.
 
“Sundays actually became our strongest days because we were working with our promoters, DJ Dayday (recently featured on BBC 1Extra), DJ Mexy, Supper Club Sundays (our main support throughout lockdown), and our two resident DJs: DJ Gzee on a Friday night and DJ Surgery on a Saturday Night.“
 
 Working with promoters and DJs, Sophia has found, really helps bring in followers of the DJs themselves, but also means they have an affinity with the venue and want to push it to a new set of customers too (with many boasting upwards of 30,000 followers on social media and music platforms). Greene King have really helped pivot the venue in this way, as Sophia notes that the trends in drinks aren’t your usual draught beer or ale. Shots are their most popular order at the bar, yielding 73% at a time, but the venue also hosts a mixologist called Saller Yero who creates new cocktails to suit each event (often using favourite rum brands, Hennessey and Wray & Nephew). 
 

 “We have a really good agreement with Greene King, we were tied until about a week ago, but even before then, if we wanted something they didn’t stock, we were free to shop around.”
Inclusivity is important to Sophia, and recent feedback from customers shed a light on just how dear that is to the people who enjoy themselves at The Bohemian. 
 
 “We recently had some guys come in from a famous grime collective from London– a famous garage/grime group. They came up to me at the end of the night, held my hands and said ‘Thank you for your customer service, people like us don’t go anywhere and get treated the way you guys have treated us. People don’t want us in their venue because of how we look’.”
 
 With the majority of their customers hailing from Asian, Black or Mixed Race backgrounds, Sophia is keen to note that inclusivity runs beyond greetings and standard customer service as she and her team of 15 staff work hard to include every gender, race, sexual orientation and ability.
 
 “We have disabled and special needs customers, and so it was really important to make this a fun space for them too. Disabled toilets are usually quite clinical, so we’ve made ours swish to match the venue, adding nice flooring, mirrors, plants, toiletries.” With all staff, including security staff, being female (aside from Blake and Saller), the venue is also very focused on female safety. 
 
 “We’ve recently launched ‘Ask for Angela’ and we’ve been known to pay for taxis home. I’ve tied handbags and heels to peoples’ wrists, ordered Ubers for them, taken the taxi driver’s phone number for updates. We’re really careful with our customers.” A thriving venue that consistently operates to capacity, Sophia’s ideas for the future span creating a London-style rooftop bar and setting up a festival that sees The Bohemian Cocktail Bar collaborate with Moseley Private Park. 
 

Sophia’s top tips for recovery

  •  Customer service – “One thing I’ve learned recently is that everyone is at a different stage in their pandemic journey. Some are comfortable, some are uncomfortable, some are uncomfortable but want to be out. It’s all about understanding the new range of needs for each individual.”
  •  Collaboration – “Work with great entertainers locally, and support them in what they’re doing – even if it isn’t something they’re doing in your venue, support them inside and out your venue. Push their work and they’ll push their work with you.”
  •  Thinking outside the box – “Having Kbox in our venue was a great way to assess how to boost revenue. Think outside the box and make the effort to understand what’s happening in your local area!”
  •  Share best practice – “Approach people in our industry, pick their brains, ask them the questions on your mind – ‘How do you deal with this? Is this normal?’ – It’s my first venue, I wasn’t shy about contacting people for their advice.”

 Learn more about the “Ask for Angela” campaign, focusing on customer safety, here: https://www.met.police.uk/AskforAngela 

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