In hindsight, there were benefits to having never worked behind a bar prior to our purchase of the Bull, in Ditchling, we were perhaps more open minded than most as to how a modern-day pub could be run.
Having no money meant we clearly focused on the ‘free stuff’ we could improve on. Customer service, a warm welcome and cleanliness were basic starting points, exceeding customers’ expectations and making sure we engaged with the village community was another.
As we embraced the new millennium and the fast-emerging concept of the ‘gastropub’, it was clear there were changes afoot in the industry.
After 18 months of visiting and being inspired by the best pubs from deepest Cornwall to the coolest parts of London, we had a desire to leave the corporate world. It was clear that there were no rules, anything was possible and customers were welcoming the changes with open arms.
The more you invest, the more you get back
In my brief existence as a publican (14 years isn’t going to break any records), I have observed a few things that seemed more likely to bring success than failure and even more importantly; fulfilment.
Firstly, I’m a firm believer that the more you invest in the team, customers and business, the more you get back, both emotionally and financially; and secondly, that pubs really are an integral part of their community and being the custodian of one should never be taken for granted.
During Christmas and new year, we are reminded of this more than ever. We have always tried to ensure we support those good causes around us or at least those connected to our community.
During December and inspired by the Streetsmart scheme, we took the decision some years ago to add a simple £2 discretionary addition to each bill.
Paying it forward
This allows us to donate around £5,000 in January to local good causes, so generously given by our customers. In the past year, we were able to build an outside classroom for the local junior school, to help pay for the village pre-school to plant a sensory herb garden and play area and to donate to a local cancer hospice.
We are not what is classically defined as a ‘community’ pub and I still have no idea what a ‘gastropub’ was, or indeed is. But what I have learnt is that we are surrounded by the most amazing people and we have the opportunity to do good work.
I am sure you do similar but, if not, I urge you to consider it. Your efforts will be repaid time over and there’s nothing quite like the ability to do good work that benefits others. Pay it forward, you’ll be pleased you did.
Dominic Worrall owns Bedlam Brewery and the Bull in Ditchling, voted Best Freehouse and overall winner at The Great British Pub Awards.