Manager of the Cross Keys in Leeds Richard Fiddaman took the reins of the pub towards the end of 2019.
Bookings for Christmas have been varied and Fiddaman highlighted some of the challenges he has faced in preparing for the festive period.
He said: “We've had quite a few inquiries, quite a few bookings with a big range. Our smallest booking so far, is six people and our largest is 54, which is basically as many as we can fit in upstairs and seated.
“We've had a couple of inquiries wanted to take up the whole pub, which we won't do. We've got a few inquiries that are just too big for some of us.
“It was a weird one to try to price up this year, because it's been a couple of years, and everyone seems to be hold their menus back until the very last minute so trying to do research [is difficult].
“I've tried and I think we might be a little bit cheap but it's fine, it seems to be getting people in. I was hoping we'd have more bookings in by now but I've got to keep on remembering that actually, this is the first time we've ever done a Christmas as a company.
“We didn't do Christmas the year that we took over the pub [in 2019]. Two years ago, we didn't do a Christmas offering as such because we just did a German pub in the pub so actually, no one really knows about us.
“I guess it's looking okay. But because people aren't in offices, they are not even thinking about doing Christmas parties.”
When it comes to bookings for the festive period, Fiddaman reported a few groups making reservations but predicted pubgoers were looking to book a little later than normal.
Something's got to give
He said: “The market we are targeting for Christmas bookings, is basically corporate but the offices aren't really back here.
“We are getting a lot of last minute panicky inquiries such as ‘I've left it really late, have you got the availability?’
“Now we have hit a point where we are offering a date to people, because mostly inquiries we're now getting for, for the dates I've actually already booked. But something’s got to give because I imagine everywhere is booked up on those days so either they've just got to change the date, or they'll go somewhere else. Either way, there's nothing we can really do about it.”
“[We’ve had a couple of people] not want to book because they were originally booked close towards Christmas and then now worried about getting having to isolate and the isolation from when they have their party with them would mean they'd be isolating through Christmas so they said the party that is now cancelled the party have withdrawn their inquiry.
“That was a that was the curve ball which I should, but didn't see coming, but I was thought that makes make sense. I kind of got that.”
In fact, due to a change in people’s habits, Fiddaman has altered the configuration of the pub to reflect this.
“This year is going to be a lot of drinking, rather than the more formal sit-down meals. [As a result] we've separated the upstairs room and the downstairs part,” he said.
“We've done that, because I anticipate there's going to be a lot more just teams solely going, that's got another drink, or rather than a big sit-down meal so we're keeping downstairs just for drinks.
“You can order off the normal menu, but we're not putting in the special Christmas menus. On top of that we're bringing in, a special sharer board because the sharer board is made for four people.”
Recruitment has been an ongoing challenge for operators across the sector and while the Cross Keys hasn’t been especially hard hit by this, staffing is still a concern.
Fiddaman said: “We are very lucky and we have a good, really good team, including a great kitchen team who are they happy here.
“I'm not anticipating anyone suddenly leaving but there is always that worry because we, we wouldn't be able to [trade].
“The ultimate worry is just Covid. Team members team coming down with it. That's one good thing is you do the lateral flow test and then you can be back to work. But if it did, then we don't have a second site. We don't have anywhere we can pull staff from.
“If on a Saturday, someone got affected, and the whole team did, that [would be] a shock. But I’m trying to combat that with cross training. So I'm learning all the Christmas menu so if need be, I can jump in the kitchen. The idea is I would never have to lead it but I can jump into any position just help them out. Similarly, the kitchen team don't really need to know much other than how the glass wash works. But if need be, then we can get them into sort of get glasses and we can do that we can deal with all the server side of things.
“It's the absolute unknown. It's just a headache and a worry, will we be busy enough? Will we be too busy. We will we have a spike in Covid? Will people pull out last minute?”
While the festive period will give guests to the pub to see it in all its glory, Fiddaman also outlined concerns about the potential of restrictions imposed by the Government.
He said: “Christmas is also an opportunity for us to try to show off the pub. It's a brilliant went to the pub. It's brilliant Christmas pub, it comes into its own at Christmas, when we've decorated, got the fires going. It's brilliant and it has always had a really good atmosphere. So I'm really looking forward to that but there's a slight apprehension of because nothing's been straightforward for last year.
“You’re just now in the mode where you just think something's going to go [wrong] because that's the way it has been for over 12 months. So why wouldn't it?
“There's going to be a lot more just spontaneous drinking and stuff. There's this weird sense of unease and excitement or anticipation at what hopefully, will be it will be good. I don't think it will be a normal Christmas.
“You've now got this constant dread because that's just the way it has been for more than 12, 18 months, whatever it is. But I am looking forward to it. It'll be good. It will be good.”