Famed for producing the Oakham Ales brand, the Brewery Tap in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, has also made a major success of its Thai menu. Owner Paul Hook tells Humayun Hussain how they did it
Why our food business is a success
At the heart of our all-Thai food menu is the fact that we employ chefs recruited directly from Thailand, so the authenticity of the cooking is never in question.
We employ the services of a consultant who oversees matters such as work permits and visas, so that we don't have to worry about them. Our produce is also freshly delivered every day.
The other thing is that the dishes are made to order without using microwaves or anything ready-made. A lot of the cooking is done on high heat so dishes are prepared very quickly, which, in turn, means that the customers get served promptly.
They can also get a good view of the kitchen via a large glass window. They can see the chefs working with lots of flames, so it adds a sense of theatricality, which makes eating here very appealing.
Our best promotions
On the food side, we don't do any special offers for the simple reason that we don't need to. We do seasonal and event-related menus, such as Christmas and so on, as well as different types of buffets for parties, but that is it.
Where we do have some promotions is on the drinks side, particularly with regard to beer festivals, and they are very successful. Earlier this year, for instance, we held a real-ale festival with 30 extra ales from various breweries over a weekend.
We had people coming in from across the UK and that is usually because Oakham Ales is such a well-known name.
How we recruit and motivate staff
We usually get people via advertisements in the local paper or just word of mouth. The staff go through the basic induction process and are then on a three-month trial, during which time they are free to leave whenever they choose if they don't like working for us for some reason and vice versa.
There are also standard monthly and annual appraisals, as well as an observational checklist of what the duties are and how the staff are performing.
Tips are kept by the waiting staff and there are bonus schemes in place for managerial staff. We have staff outings too, such as going bowling, and there is an incentive for the waiting staff where, if they push a particular product, for example, a certain wine, they are rewarded for their effort.
Our best-selling dishes
For starters there is the snack combo (£8.49), which is made up of several Thai appetisers. We have Thai fries (£2.59), which are seasoned wedges served with sweet chilli dip, and spring rolls (£2.99).
For mains, we do very well with the chicken satay sandwich (£4.49) at lunchtimes and then, in the evenings, it's pad Thai noodles (£5.99), green curry (£5.99) and koa pad Thai (£5.49), which is made with special fried rice.
We don't do a very big range of desserts but our two big sellers are the fried pineapple and banana fritters (£2.99) and the coconut ice cream (£3.29). We are planning to expand the choice in the future.
The thing that makes us proud about the menu is that we offer restaurant-level food at pub prices. There is a huge choice of dishes and many of them have an alternative vegetarian option made of vegetables, quorn or tofu. We don't push any one dish just because it may make more profit than the others because they all do. Overall, the GP we work to, and it applies to almost all the items, is 70%.
Best investment in past 12 months
We had a new till system installed last December that is also internet accessible. It's helped us incorporate better stock control, transaction functionality, timekeeping and, overall, it's also assisted with streamlining everything. In addition, we are going to be employing a business coach.
Marketing and PR
We are in a lot of guide books, such as the Good Pub Guide and the Good Beer Guide, plus various others. We are also listed on a number of pub-related websites.
Plans for the future
At the moment we are looking at introducing weekly or monthly specials on the menu. The no-smoking legislation is another matter to consider, though over the last year we have already made half the pub a no-smoking zone. The priority in the coming months is the opening of our London site in Kennington. We are hoping to open in the summer. It will be called Bar East and will be a cross between a pub and a lounge bar. The food will be fusion Oriental so rather than just offering Thai food, as we do at Brewery Tap, the choice will be broader, but equally fresh and well-made.
Our top tips
Always listen to your customers. Remember the small things, such as smiling and saying please and thank you. Keep an eye on what customers like and what they don't because that is the only way you will know how to improve what you are offering.
Owners: freehold with owner Paul Hook
Number of staff: 30
GP food: 70%
GP drink: 60%
Covers a week: 1,000
Food sales as % of turnover: 40%