James Rix of the Fox and Hounds in Hunsdon – the only Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant in the county – reopened his pub for lunch and dinner during what he described as a “very positive” weekend of 4 and 5 July, despite reducing the number of covers.
"We took it very slowly and with limited numbers, but we had a good weekend,” Rix told The Morning Advertiser (MA).“We restricted to 40 covers for lunch, 40 covers for dinner, where we would normally do 60 for lunch and 70 or 80 for dinner. Again on Sunday, we restricted to 40 covers where on a normal Sunday it's 120.
"We had new systems to put in place, in-out systems, the flow of people going through the building and we'd done an outside shop during the lockdown – a farmer's market style shop with ready meals and home produced produce – so we moved that into one area of the pub, which was a new business stream as well."
Rix added that despite the shop being launched during enforced closure of pubs due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the new revenue stream will continue to provide another source of income for the Fox and Hounds post-lockdown.
"We've been running the shop two days a week in lockdown in our large outside area and it was probably generating about a third of our pre-lockdown turnover on a couple of days' trading per week,” he explained.
“We're lucky, we're in a village where we have a very strong sense of loyalty and community from the people in the area. If we can maintain it alongside our turnover, it's another revenue stream.
“Turnover-wise, over the weekend, we probably did a quarter of the turnover on Saturday from the shop.
“We're working with local producers, we're making ready meals then we've got charcuterie and cheeses and things like that.
“Pretty much everybody that came in, went through the shop on the way out and bought a couple of items – fresh bread, bakery produce – then we opened early Sunday morning for coffees and pastries. It's a good extra revenue stream that we didn't have before.”
Crazy not to adapt
In a blog post published in June, Rix – who has run the Fox and Hounds for 15 years with wife Bianca – explained that requests from customers to keep their shop and takeaway meals service open once trading restrictions encouraged him to review the pub's business model.
“We did a little bit of takeaway before but our meals to prepare at home and pop-up shop on our terrace selling fresh fruit and vegetables, meat and steaks, wine has been incredibly popular with more and more customers every week,” Rix's blog post explained.
“This new way of working has had its ups and downs and we had to adapt quickly, but we have really enjoyed it. It’s been lovely to meet new people from the village who weren’t customers before but now understand a little bit more what we are about.
“It’s felt important to give something back to our community during this difficult period in everyone’s lives.
“We have had lots of requests from customers to keep our shop and takeaway meals service open and it’s certainly something we have been giving a lot of thought to.
“It would be crazy not to use this experience to adapt our business for the better and to continue to serve our local community.”
Bit of a rush
Despite Rix – who has previously worked alongside chefs Gary Rhodes and Alastair Little – changing his pub’s business model to feature the new shop, he revealed the 'Super Saturday' weekend was free of any “nasty surprises”.
"It was a little bit of a rush to reopen for the weekend given we'd changed business model slightly to incorporate the shop and the takeaway into our current model,” he told MA.
"The majority of our customers here on Saturday night were regulars – all old faces that we knew – it was a little bit more normal. But the lunch trade was subdued a little bit. We didn't have as many big family groups, obviously because of restrictions on the table numbers, so we had smaller tables on Sunday.
“Saturday night is generally groups of friends, lunchtime used to be a bigger, family, social event, getting together for birthdays and that kind of thing, so Sunday did feel a little bit more subdued, but people did seem to be having a good time and enjoying themselves.
“Everyone was just glad to be out and not have to do the washing up and the cooking."