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My Pub: The Doctor's Orders, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

By Claire Churchard , 20-Mar-2017
Last updated on 20-Mar-2017 at 11:05 GMT2017-03-20T11:05:48Z

Bone from Home: A full-sized skeleton is just one of the props designed to make NHS staff feel at ease
Bone from Home: A full-sized skeleton is just one of the props designed to make NHS staff feel at ease

Licensee Matt Steer has been in the pub business long enough to know what it takes to succeed. And in Sheffield, labelled ‘the real ale capital of the world’, the competition is tough, Claire Chuchard reports.

The publican

I know Sheffield well, although I’m originally from Barnsley. I went to Sheffield University and stayed in the city after I graduated. I’ve worked in the industry for quite a long time and I got my first bar job when I was about 17 and my first general manager job when I was 22. I worked my way up through a few different companies. 

I ran nightclubs and bars for other people for about 10 years and worked for the O2 Academy Music Group advertising big nights for students like Head Candy and Gate Crasher, it was a good place to learn. I also worked as a trainee business development manager (BDM) for Marston’s pub company, going up and down the country looking at tenanted pubs on their behalf. 

I got to visit a lot of pubs and spend a lot of time with people who were having a tough time. It gave me an opportunity to look at a lot of tied pubs, see why they had failed, what they’d done wrong, how the deals had been struck and how the BDM had put the deals together for the tenants. So I got an idea of what I would be looking for when I got a deal. 

The Doctor’s Orders is my second pub, it’s a Star Pubs & Bars site, tied with Heineken beers. My first pub was, and is, called the Fox & Duck, which is also in Sheffield and 100% wet-led. It was a tied Enterprise pub when we bought it. 

The pub

I’ve had the Doctor’s Orders for about two and a half years now and we’ve completely turned it around.

Before we took it over, the site was called the West End Hotel and it had been struggling for about 10 years and was falling apart. It’s on the corner between the university and the main Sheffield teaching hospital, so we wanted to make a brand, a concept and an offer that would appeal to the staff and visitors to the hospital as well as the students from the university.

We spent some time thinking of every kind of medical idea we could and that’s why we chose the Doctor’s Orders name. We did a full rebrand outside and in. To get the atmosphere right, we designed the interior around the theme of a 1960s doctor’s waiting room. We used upcycled furniture to create a vintage look. We also added some extra twists such as a full-sized skeleton, imported from Germany, light-backed X-ray boxes on the walls and an original 1920s eye test chart that is also backlit. We err on the side of quackery rather than Gothic.

We use the X-ray boxes to highlight promotions for events and specials rather than using ordinary posters. And we also sponsored the medics’ rugby team and the medics’ hockey team to get the name out there. 

Fact File

Pub: The Doctor's Orders

Address: 412 Glossop Road, Sheffield S10 2JD.

Tenure: Star Pubs & Bars tied to Heineken keg beers

Licensee: Matt Steer

Weekly turnover: £10,000

Wet:dry split: 50:50 (yearly average)

Awards: Winner of the 2016 Great British Pub Awards - Best Student Pub

Website: http://thedoctorsorders.pub/ 

With the university so close, we need to have a value offer but still be able to appeal to visiting parents and senior doctors from the teaching hospital and people who might want something a
little bit more formal. 

Obviously the student market is im-portant but it’s tough and tends to fall off a cliff in summer, which is why we also want to attract people from the hospital.

We are an NHS-centric pub rather than being an NUS (National Union of Students)-centric one. Although, academia and the NHS are tightly intertwined. Our customers are the post-graduate students doing their doctorates at the hospital, student doctors doing their first rotation rounds, visiting medics that have come to give lectures, nurses, support staff, porters and kitchen teams. The demographic that covers them all is NHS and NUS. 

We have tried to tap into the idea that these people deserve somewhere to go and have a pint after work. We are still a student pub, but we are also trying to be the NHS local. Our customers are a nice melting pot of folk.

Since we opened in February 2015 we have seen 40% growth year on year. We are taking an average of £10,000 a week and hitting that relatively consistently.

To put that in context, the previous incarnation, the West End Hotel, took £750 in the last week it was open and they got in about 50 barrels in that final year. We did 280 barrels in our first year, so we completely turned it around.

That said, Sheffield is a really difficult place to run a pub because its super competitive in terms of the pub offer. There was a report by Sheffield University saying the city was the real-ale capital of the world and a lot of the pubs in the city are run by brewers. We’ve got our own microbrewery called Little Critters on a separate site.

The team

When we first took it over we had one full-time member of kitchen staff plus one part-timer and one full-time member of bar staff plus a part-timer. Now we employ three full-time kitchen staff, four full-time bar staff as well as part-timers. So it’s grown at a good pace. 

Crowd Puller: The pub has witnessed 40% growth year-on-year

The food

On an average week, we are 60:40 wet:dry led. But this averages out at 50:50 over the year because we have certain periods where we are food heavy, for example, around Christmas or during graduation. In December 2016, we were almost fully booked every day for Christmas dinners.

We have 110 covers inside and out.

We’ve got about 300 TripAdvisor reviews for food and are in about seventh place in Sheffield out of 1,195 restaurants. In fact we’ve had a few people arrive expecting a restaurant, which is partly why when we created the website we made sure it had ‘pub’ in the URL.

We’ve got a value core food offer that we do fresh. One of our main things is a Yorkshire burrito, which is a giant Yorkshire pudding filled with 24-hour slowed-cooked beef wrapped up like a burrito and served with horseradish mash. 

We have a 10% discount on food for NHS staff and students, which brings everything into a reasonable value point for that group. On top of that, we have a specials menu that changes according to the time of year. For example, in January, when people are strapped for cash we have fresh cooked pasta meal, then around graduation we might have more premium offers like pre-ordered beef Wellington. Having the specials menu allows us to pitch the price and offers a little bit higher or lower depending on what we think it will be like that week. We also share our latest menus, special offers and events, like our weekly pub quiz, on social media. Facebook is the most important one for us.

The drink

Being a Star pub, we are not tied straight away on wines and spirits, the pubco is mainly interested in the beer because it is a brewer. When we took the site we got it free-of-tied ales because we knew we were going to open up our own brewery, which we did. Our Little Critters brewery supplies all the real ales. We have a few swaps in there every now and then from local people. On draught keg, we have all Heineken products because we are tied. The products that work really well are Heineken and Sagres, a Portuguese lager that is part of the Heineken portfolio. It has got a lot more malt to it than a lot of lagers. For spirits, we get a lot of our core range from Bacardi Brown Forman.

The future

We are in the process of negotiating with Star Pubs about relocating the kitchen to the middle floor and making what is currently the kitchen into another seating area. Our staff are delivering really good food from a small kitchen. The main feedback that we get is that service is not always quick enough, but it’s genuinely because the kitchen is not quite big enough and that does the staff a disservice because they are doing a great job. So a bigger, newer kitchen would enable them to serve food more quickly. 

We’re also looking to put in two rooms on the upper floor as conference and room hire facilities. We plan to rent them out or offer private dining in the evening as well as supper clubs. I’d also like to open more Doctor’s Orders pubs in other cities, maybe Leeds. But that depends on getting finance. In addition we want to expand the brewery because the ales sell out every week, so we’re looking for a bigger unit to move to.

On the menu

■ Shredded chicken sandwich: £5

■ Baked Camembert sharer: £8.95

■ Yorkshire burrito: £10.95

■ Pressed belly pork: £14.95

■ Vegetarian lasagne: £8.95

■ 16oz Sirloin steak: £22.95

■ Peach and apricot crumble: £3.95

■ Strawberry and white chocolate cheesecake: £3.95

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