Yates's: aiming for every-day value

By The PMA Team

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Yates Town

Yates's: 125 years old
Yates's: 125 years old
The Yates's brand is still sizeable with 65 sites — and is celebrating its 125th birthday this month. The PMA Team reports.

Growing up in the sleepy market town of Boston in Lincolnshire, I remember well the magic allure that the legendary Yates's site in nearby Nottingham held.

More worldly friends talked in reverential tones about the Yates's Wine Lodge as a drinking hall without rival.

My fertile teenage imagination jumped over-actively with images of glamorous wine sipping, ski lodge design flourishes and barmaids who looked like Paula Yates. My first visit zapped the more outlandish stuff. The reality was a vast and sumptuous temple of drinking, two storeys of ornate Victoriana with balconies, marble and brass fittings galore.

A decade or so later in the 1990s, the Yates's brand was regularly touted as the northern version of JD Wetherspoon, an offer that could dominate every high steet in the UK alongside its southern rival. There followed years of rapid expansion chased by years of attempts to create sales momentum as the degree of high-street saturation became obvious. This particular chapter of Yates's history ended in March last year when its owner, Laurel, went through a pre-pack administration, cleansing it of just over 40 sites that were the living proof of its over-expansion in the 1990s and afterwards.

The viable remnants of Yates's became the lead brand in the Laurel phoenix company Town & City Pubs, led by Laurel's former pubs and bars division boss Toby Smith.

The past year has seen Smith and his team set about revitalising the core Yates's estate. Part of the plan has seen a £5m investment in 22 heritage venues, the absolute jewels of the estate invariably located in beautiful buildings in cities like York, Bournemouth, Preston and Blackpool. (The Yates's in Nottingham is currently undergoing a £500,000 investment that will see the reinstatement of its once noble facade and the creation of a wowsville roof terrace).

"It's about re-invigorating a brand that's recognised on every high street," says Smith. Cleverly, Smith and his management have sought to tap into some of Yates's lost heritage, asking long-serving staff to remind them of parts of the offer that have been "lost" over the years and could be added back into the mix.

The result is the return to the menu of the famous Yates's hot beef sandwich, the Yates's steak & ale pie, and fish & chips served on newspaper. An estate-wide rollout of a well-ranged cask ale offer has also just been completed.

This month, customers can toast the Yates's brand anniversary with a pint of 3.6% abv Birthday Ale, brewed for the occasion by Wells & Young's and costing just £1.25 per pint. "We've trained every manager with help from our cask-ale partner, Wells & Young's," says Smith. "We want to make Yates's famous for cask ale — it's a real signal of care and quality behind our bars."

I recall one boss of Yates's saying he didn't want JD Wetherspoon customers, preferring to set his sights on a more up-market audience, happy to pay higher prices.

That kind of thinking has been well and truly junked by Town & City bosses. Current price points mean that the Yates's tanks have been parked on the Wetherspoon lawns with a pretty direct view of the hallway.

The Yates's brand is making a dash for volume by offering customers great value. There's a £1.99 lasagne offer, for example, which is clearly trying to attract sandwich-buyers away from Boots as well as the price-conscious Wetherspoon audience. Menus also feature a two-meals-for-£5.95 offer. Smith is cagey about precise sales performance at the moment, but doesn't demur when I suggest the brand is in double-digit growth on food.

"Our food performance is spectacular," he says. "There's an obvious temptation to reduce quality or quantity at these price points — we've stuck to our guns on both. We're delighted with our volumes — food is becoming more and more significant. It's all about repositioning this business so it's got credibility all day."

Smith says that the brand became too narrowly based for a period during the peak of high-street expansion. It was "sucked into the vortex of music and disc jockeys because it was where the big money was," he says. Now the philosophy is about breaking out across the day to become an "all day, every day" business. The re-focus on price and quality may be one reason why Wetherspoon like-for-likes haven't marched away quite as quickly as some expected this year. Yates's investment in the still-large high street comes at a time when most others are re-trenching.

Other brands still operated by Town & City Pubs include Hogshead and Litten Tree. Here, there is a move to turn sites to an unbranded, traditional pub model. The Hogshead estate is now down to a dozen sites, with venues in Glasgow, Doncaster, St Albans and Stevenage now converted. "There's an on-going repositioning of venues in other suits of clothes," says Smith.

Memories of Yates's, Paul Kierman, deputy manager, Allerton Road, Liverpool

Kierman started working for Yates's as a part-time barman in the former Blob Shop, in Liverpool.

He moved to Bootle as a supervisor; after doing a stint on the management team at Queen Square, Liverpool, he took up his post as deputy manager at the Allerton Road Yates's.

"When I joined 13 years ago, it was a close-knit family company. I remember meeting the chairman, Peter Dickson, who used to invite managers back to his country mansion. I miss some of that, but Yates's wouldn't have survived if it hadn't moved forward and become more modern. It's always kept its broad mix of customers.

"You hear people today talking in the street about Yates's and it's not just young people — it appeals to all ages and all types.

"We're good value for money and I'd like to think that it's really down to customer service making people come here. Good customer service is something that Yates's has always stood for — and that's what creates the pubs' atmosphere.

"We have our core regulars here — and they all have a good relationship with the staff and can have a banter. They feel safe and, to many, it's just like home!"

What managers are up to this month

Yates's managers were tasked to go away and come up with ideas to create excitement and activity throughout this month. The response has been good.

Many venues are located in garrison towns and some Yates's sites are hoping to raise money for Help the Heroes. There will be a 24.5 mile sponsored walk over the three highest peaks in Yorkshire. Those participating include Spencer Lloyd from Peterborough, Gareth Smith from Bicester, Kim Candido from Watford, Paul Newton from Luton and Graeme Evans from Reading, along with their area manager Paul Wright.

They will be trekking to heights of 5,000 feet in just 12 hours with the aim of raising in excess of £3,000.

The Yates's team in Aldershot, led by manager Paul Buckfield, is following in the footsteps of soul band Rose Royce and is setting up a car wash for the day on 21 June. Added to that they will be running an auction in the evening.

The managers from all eight Yates's pubs in the north-west are getting on their bikes for the cause and will be cycling the 20 miles between Preston and Blackpool in less than five hours — Brian Clarke, Craig Southall, Stuart Burke, Paul Donaldson, Paul Bird, Stephen Price, Kirk Young, Ranya Bodjaja and some interlopers from the rest of the Town and City estate.

In Leeds there will be a three-legged race open to staff and customers alike.

It will start at the Yates's in Boar Lane and end across town at the Yates's in Woodhouse Lane. The Boar Lane team will be headed by Jo McLoughlin, while the Woodhouse Lane crew will be led by Lee Nightingale.

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