'We have never been so busy' - how are food pubs finding reopening?

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Trading results: operators share their experiences of food sales post-lockdown
Trading results: operators share their experiences of food sales post-lockdown

Related tags: Food, Branding + marketing, Gastro pub

Operators have shared their experiences of trade with The Morning Advertiser, with some reporting food sales up on the previous year.

Despite the challenging time for the sector and depressed takings for some, food-led venues have experienced positive feedback from customers and launched innovative new menus for old and new punters.

Donna Taylor, the Compasses Inn, Crundale, Kent

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"Our first weekend – 10 July – was a record weekend for take. Subsequent weekends have been good, however we are currently only open Friday to Sunday, so it is possible that is pushing diners into those days.

"We still run our a la carte menu as it was pre-Covid, with six choices per course. We are yet to return to our set price lunch menu and Thursday tasting menu. However diners have enquired about the latter, so hopefully we can resume this one when we open fully.

"I imagine the same challenges as everyone else, a very different order of service is probably the main one with front-of-house. However, [we are in] our third week in and it's safe to say, it really has become the new normal. The back-of-house challenge would have to be stock control, going from a five day week to three.

"The customer feedback and attitudes to the new normal have been nothing but positive. At our end anyway, it appears customers will do just about anything you ask of them in order to be dining out again. Big smiles and gratitude all round."

Jessica Georgallis, the Beehive, Thorner, Leeds 

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"Unfortunately we don’t have any like-for-like comparisons yet as we have only been operating for nine months. Our new menu is a lot more refined and modern, we are heading for a restaurant concept rather than a gastropub. 

"We’ve given the whole menu a total revamp with our new head chef Craig Thorpe. In the evenings, the menu is a more refined twist on the classic British menu, with stand-out dishes such as scorched cod with harissa, smoked aubergine, tomato, couscous and chicken with truffle donut, corn, shallot, trompette. For lunch service we have a selection of sandwiches ranging from the chimichurri steak flatbread to the firm favourite fish sandwich.

"Reopening after a pandemic is never going to be easy and making sure everything is safe within government guidelines was crucial. We’ve had weeks of intensive training getting us ready for a new beginning.

"The reopening has exceeded expectations. We’re only five days in but the feedback from the locals and guests who travelled from further afield has been great. Bookings have been flying in and everyone’s been really supportive and positive adapting to the new normal. To be honest, we couldn’t have wished for a warmer welcome back."

Andrew Pern, the Star Inn at Harome, North Yorkshire

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"We are going great guns, we have never been so busy. We opened on 4 July, making many changes to the entrance so in theory, turning the pub around, with the drinking and snacks guests coming in through a new entrance to our ‘Drinking Field’ with its own outdoor bar, posh portable loos, marquee top and 90 extra seats.

"Dining guests who have booked can use the same outdoor bar which has a great ambience with the music and summer ‘sunshine’ – God’s own beer garden! 

"We take bookings on all tables in the beer garden, on the decking and the four inside dining areas. We lost one table in each dining area only as we are quite spacious anyway. One local has booked the bar and it’s tables for a month each Friday and invites his friends and family to either drink or dine which is great.

"Turnover has risen from being up 12% the first week to 15%, to an amazing 34% this week. All staff have returned and we have employed four extra staff. We are looking for more on front-of-house and kitchen too, as we have four new bedrooms about to open in a few weeks time! So all go. The staff have been absolutely brilliant as difficult for all to adhere to these new times, but the general consensus is the Star is back and business is back to a new normal."

Ben Handley, the Duck Inn at Stanhoe, Norfolk

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"Our like-for-likes are very different, lower levels of sales but less labour, making it more efficient to get a different style of product served safely. We’ve adapted some dishes to make it less likely that unnecessary numbers of receptacles are used per customer and minimising contact with multiple dishes.

"We had a fairly thorough overhaul of our menu and food offering. We have dropped some items that have been mainstay favourites. The time out gave us time to rethink and question everything we do and have done historically. It was a good time to be brutally honest with ourselves!

"The response from customers has been very positive. We were cautious that whatever we offer had to be tasty, safely delivered and interesting given that people’s tastebuds had had a break too.

"During lockdown we helped Food 4 Heroes produce food for the Kings Lynn ambulance staff and paramedics. During this period, I had time to experiment with different techniques and flavour combinations, some of which clicked and made sense!"

James Garnham, the Five Bells Inn, Clyst Hydon, East Devon

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Like-for-like food sales are up 21% for this month (1-28 July) and we’ve also just had our biggest week ever since taking over the pub two and a half years ago. Lots of good weather combined with the pull of our beautiful garden has really helped the business to bounce back post-lockdown.

Whilst keeping the Five Bells classics that people know and love - our famous Scotch eggs and gluten free fish and chips for example, we have redesigned the bulk of the menu and introduced extra pubby dishes like the slow-braised beef cheek, oat & ale suet crust pie, together with some new Devon-focused dishes like the duo of Kentisbeare pork as well as a couple of surprises; the wood roasted aubergine with a courgette & broad bean fricassee being one. Charlotte is trying to use every ingredient, particularly the protein, in more than one dish to help reduce wastage and increase margins. When our waiting staff are asked by customers what is best that day they will recommend something that is truly unique to us - the local Shutelake lamb over the usual sirloin steak for example. We want guests to leave having had an amazing experience.

The biggest operational challenge for us has been offering full table service to everyone in the garden as it is so labour intensive. Also at the start we needed to ensure every member of staff was adhering to the risk assessment until it became second nature to them. Another challenge is that customers assume we won’t be busy but actually the opposite is true. Booking is essential! 

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