A few things I’ve learned about the on-trade

By Piers Baker

- Last updated on GMT

Knowledge is king: Piers Baker says it’s wrong to squeeze suppliers because it won’t work in the long run
Knowledge is king: Piers Baker says it’s wrong to squeeze suppliers because it won’t work in the long run

Related tags On-trade beer market Alcoholic beverage Beer

Piers Baker, of the Sun Inn, Dedham, on the Essex-Suffolk border, explains experience in the pub game is the key to understanding the way business really works.


That feedback is just that – an invaluable source on how we can learn and do better. Before I thought it was just someone’s opinion that I either agreed with or didn’t. Not always in terms of menu, mistakes, decor but also in how we get our message out. Now it is poring through collated periodic feedback and taking the good out so we know what we’re getting right and why but also what we need to focus on and how we can crystallise our message.


Once people are trained, know what is trying to be achieved and trust them to get on with things. Nurture them when they make mistakes. And when they do, it’s important to understand why as much as how. The more trust you can put in people, the more you’ll be rewarded and the more they will trust you. You can’t do everything so you’ve got to bring people along with you and mutual trust is a big thing – at any level.

Less is more

Doing a few things really well is better than doing lots of things OK-ish. You can’t cater to everyone so focus on what you do really well and keep doing it really well. At times I get distracted with this, trying to cover too many bases and each time, get reminded to dial things back and focus. Whether it be a menu change, event, training – keep it simple and do it well.

Work with suppliers

I used to look at win-win deals, always trying to squeeze suppliers. Over time, this doesn’t work. Our supplier relationships really are mutual. The ones we’ve had the longest are because of everything other than price – training support, fixing order/delivery errors, helping with kit, helping with fundraising. Being generous with their time and knowledge.

Make people happy

It’s why I do what I do and it’s the kick that I get when you know you’ve made someone happy. As the business has grown and time with customers is diluted, each time I return to the floor for service, I’m instantly reminded of why I do what I do and why all the other s**t is just baggage.

The sum of its parts

It’s not about having tasty food, the nicest people or the best venue. You have to put them all together, consistently. Yes, a bad plate of food can be redeemed by honest service, and bad service can be redeemed because the food was sensational or the venue was buzzing. But it won’t work forever. You’ve got to put all of it together, all the time.

These days, a lot of the above is taken for granted. Whether it’s existing businesses or people starting out. But in 2003, as a 27-year stepping out after five years’ employment in London, I wish I had understood things a bit more.

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