When we put out a call at the start of the Covid-19 crisis, asking people how they could support their local pub at this time, Trevor Bandey of the Amberley Inn came back to tell us a bit about how he was shifting the business model for one of his two pubs. Nearly two months on, things have continued to change, so we thought it might be interesting to hear what he’s done and what he has learned from the process…
Can you tell us a bit about you and the pub you run?
We run two pubs, The Amberley Inn, a 13 bedroom 4 star Inn located on Minchinhampton Common in the heart of the Cotswolds. The Amberley is a leasehold free house. We took the lease in October 2011 and have been building the business since. After extensive refurbishments over the first three years, we finally came into profit two years ago.
The second site is The George Inn in Newmarket, Nailsworth, Glous. We purchased the freehold of this traditional boozer three years ago.
How did you get involved in the pub trade?
A long story. My parents had a pub in the 70’s. I first ran that when I was 16 when they went away for a couple of nights.
My wife and I decided to run our own pub after 5 years of sailing around the Mediterranean in the summer and running hi-end ski chalets in the winter.
How have you changed your business model since the start of the Covid19 crisis?
We shut the George down completely. Stripped out all the stock and locked it up.
In The Amberley (where we live on-site), Jane and I have continued to try and generate some revenue. Initially we set up a pop-up shop selling the perishable stock we were left holding. This included bottle drinks, snacks, cask ales and kitchen stock.
Amberley is a small village about 2 miles south of Stroud. Our village shop closed several years ago due to lack of support so our pop-up shop has been received really well and we are now averaging about £90 a day sales of fruit, veg, eggs etc.
Jane posts a list of products and prices on Facebook then customers email her their list. We box-up their order and they come to the front door to collect and pay by contactless.
We have also been very busy with our weekend take-away fish & chips. We specialise in gluten free food at The Amberley, holders of a bronze medal from the Free From Awards a couple of years ago. Fish & Chips are our best selling menu item so offering a take-away on a Friday and Saturday night was obvious. This has been building steadily through April. We served 107 portions last Friday and a further 40 on the Saturday.
What has the response been from the local community?
The community response has been brilliant. I am happy to make local deliveries to people isolating but most are pleased to come to us and pick up, it’s a chance to get out of the house and have a brief chat.
Has the offering changed much since you first started?
To avoid incurring additional costs adhering to the government guidelines on social distancing in shops (extra staff etc) we adopted an system of 5 minute time slots for people to collect their orders. This works really well for all concerned – even Jane is pleased as she can cook and package 3 portions of fish & chips every five minutes, we talk about flattening the peak of demand and saving the chef from being overwhelmed.
What has been your biggest surprise or learning since changing your offering?
We have been completely taken-aback by the demand for both. I thought the shop would dwindle to nothing once the supermarkets got over the panic buying in March. But demand has continued, today we took £130.00 in the shop. Well above average.
With regard to the fish & chips, there are plenty of take-aways in the area, including two fish & chip shops within 2 miles. One has closed completely and the other is doing daytime service only so the demand for local evening service is there.
What advice would you give to other landlords who are looking to offer take-away services at this time?
Keep it simple, we tried Sunday lunches at first. A completely different prospect and one we only did once. You need to minimise the need for additional staff to make it financially viable so just having the one offering means we don’t need help in the kitchen – and yes we do hand-cut all our chips and batter the fish in house with our own recipe for gluten-free batter. There were not many evenings we take over £1000 in food sales operating normally.
Is this something you will continue when life goes back to “normal”?
We will continue with the take-away service as the kitchen is operational anyway.
A final point: We have a good relationship with our Landlord at the Amberley. We have been granted a rent deferment for as long as we need to ensure we survive but, and this is a huge point, do we want or need a business saddled with over £50K of debt? Landlords need to take some of the pain I’m afraid, which means rent holidays and reductions not deferments, so businesses are not only able to survive, but also WANT to continue as they can see the future is not all about paying off back-rent for the period of the lockdown.