The Duke of Cambridge nestles on the border of the Surrey Hills in a picturesque spot, near the village of Tilford, which has probably one of the UK’s most photographed cricket greens. It’s a bit of a cliché to say, but it’s a honey pot area.
In terms of clientele, our customer base is a mix of London commuters, families and tourists. There’s a golf course nearby too, so there’s a bit of affluence from that.
But, if I was to sum it up, we’re very much a family pub and welcome walkers and people with dogs. We cater for several types of diners: you can have a posh meal, and you can also come in and have a beer and let the kids run around. We’re the pub for everyone.
This was the second site Red Mist Leisure opened (we’ve now got 10) more than a decade ago, and I joined nine years ago. The pub has been around for more than 100 years. Thirty staff work here, 14 of those are full time.
My father was a brewer and had a microbrewery in Cambridgeshire and a couple of pubs in Northamptonshire and I moved down to Surrey from that business to Red Mist. Now I’m the operations manager and manage three sites, as well as the Tilford microbrewery.
As a pub, it is probably one of the most seasonally affected in the Red Mist Leisure estate. Inside, there’s capacity for up to 60 covers, with much more outside.
We’ve got a few outside areas, including a covered patio where we’ve put a barn with sides that open up for semi-alfresco dining and we’ve also got a decked area with 50 covers. On a sunny Sunday, we can serve more than 500 people across the pub.
We’ve got a large garden with a kids’ playground that’s bespoke. We built a fully stocked bar and grill kitchen down there, so we can have two kitchens running at the same time to ensure people can be served quickly on busy days.
Because we’re serving fresh food from both kitchens, we have two menus. The garden menu is more family orientated and has a lower price point. Inside, there’s a mix of refined dining and also pub classics. The outside bar is fully stocked and we’ve also got a full cocktail menu and operate a similar wet service as inside.
There’s a small river next to the garden with wildlife and ducks, then there’s a patio area that leads up to the bar and grill on a raised area that oversees a grassed garden with a pergola in the middle with lighting.
It’s very green, but we’ve planted around the edges. Because we’re nestled on the edge of a forest, we’re surrounded by trees on two sides, and to the other side there’s a field with animals. It’s a pretty idyllic spot on a sunny day and because we’re surrounded by trees, if you get a bit of heat they keep it in.
For us, being a little bit of a suntrap when the weather is warm, people will come and drink gin and tonics in the garden, and that’s a huge part of our business. We’re a bit controlled by our garden and the weather, in a funny sort way.
Gin and tonic
The garden provides a huge amount of trade. If it rains and the weather is really bad, we would be lucky to do 60% of the trade we could on a warm day.
The garden brings probably half of our trade. With this in mind, for the winter months, we’ve put heaters in the barn area to make it more comfortable when it’s cold outside.
We also do a lot of meet-the-maker nights in the barn, and we’ve had distillers from several makers in the area come too.
Gin and tonic is massive for us. G&Ts and Prosecco have boomed because customers want something that looks and tastes great, but are not willing to pay the price for a glass of Champagne or a cocktail. Gin appeals to lots of demographics, whereas other spirits categories don’t have that.
The boom has also helped us sell gins that are made by distilleries local to us. For example, Silent Pool now outsells our house gin Bombay Sapphire.
We don’t market Silent Pool in-house, but there’s a local following for the gin, so people want it. One of the other things making gin work in our pub is the glassware, such as copa glasses, but the quality of tonic, such as Fever-Tree, is driving that too and people come in and ask for the brand.
Our standard gin and tonic serve looks good and is a minimum of ice, juniper berries and lime, then we expand on that with our gin cocktails.
We’ve had a lot of support from Fever-Tree with point of sale, and they’ve helped us create a drinks offer that helps us stand out, and give prizes to staff to upsell on drinks.
We’re a pub, at the end of the day, and a lot of people come in and have a glass of house white and fish and chips, but if we trade that up to a lamb dish and a G&T, it will be a premium serve that sticks in their mind when they’ve gone.
What’s also good for us, as publicans, is that a great gin & tonic is easy to make. There’s nothing worse than getting a badly made cocktail, but we can train staff to make the best G&T with just four components.
We sell over 50 G&Ts on a busy sunny day. What is also noticeable is gin accounts for more than the rest of our spirits put together.
A perfect G&T, for me, is our simple, basic serve. But what sells better tends to be fruit-driven and a little bit sweeter. So if we use Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic in something and garnish it with pink grapefruit, that really sells.
That’s partly because of the way it looks, with the big bits of fruit in there and the strong citrus smell. You know people are going to put their hands up and order them after they see one coming through the bar or garden.
The garden is vital to our gin and tonic sales. For me, and this is my personal opinion, people assume you can have a beer and a glass of wine in the garden, but that’s not really a draw.
We put out pictures of our G&Ts on social media and they lure people into the site more than a pint of ale would.