THINGS ARE heating up at the White Hart Inn in Wilmington, East Devon, thanks to a focus on driving food sales.
Since Kellie Mannisto took over as licensee of the pub a year ago, food turnover at the pub has increased by 55 per cent. The location, near the dramatic 'Jurassic coastline', means the pub attracts plenty of passing trade, but the majority of custom is from locals.
With an open fire, regular quiz nights and purpose-built skittle alley, it's a typical village community local. And it offers bed and breakfast.
Kellie knew the White Hart had potential but needed something to set it apart from other pubs in the area. "Our kitchen is tiny and I was really stuck to come up with what we could do, bearing in mind the limited space," she says.
A touch of theatre
A visit to the Publican Live show before Easter solved the problem, when Kellie saw the Black Rock Grill in action. It brings a touch of theatre to a pub, with customers using a hot stone to cook meat, fish or vegetables at the table.
"I realised immediately that it had potential for our pub," she says. "The hot volcanic rocks cook the food and the customer is in control.
"It's quite a spectacle and a real talking point in the pub. The meat and fish look, smell and taste fantastic and with no added oils or fats, it's very healthy."
There are two menus on offer at the White Hart Inn. The standard bar snack menu includes traditional favourites such as homemade steak and ale pie, homemade sausages and roast pheasant at prices ranging from £6.95 to £10.95.
Effect on the menu
However, 70 per cent of evening turnover is now generated by the Black Rock Grill menu. This includes locally sourced pork, lamb and chicken, either as steaks or on skewers, as well as scallops and prawns. Vegetables and halloumi cheese are also offered.
Rump steak is the best seller, says Kellie: "I buy in whole pieces of meat and do all my own butchering - only top quality meat and I make sure it's really lean.
"Changing the menu every three months keeps customers interested. I try to come up with unusual recipes to keep people coming back, whether that be a different sauce to go with the steak or a new side dish of more unusual, seasonal vegetables."
With around 30 covers per night from the Black Rock Grill menu, only one dedicated member of staff is needed, thanks to its DIY element.
"Before using Black Rock Grill, I employed a chef at an annual salary of £25K," says Kellie.
"When he left, I realised I only needed a kitchen assistant at a cost of £15k per year. This saving leaves me with more capital to plough back into the business."