‘I need people to come through the doors’

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Trading conditions: Things are tricky at one of Britain's most esteemed pubs
Trading conditions: Things are tricky at one of Britain's most esteemed pubs

Related tags Food Finance Gastropub

Times are tough for one Michelin-starred gastropub, which, despite slashing the menu by £25 midweek, is not as busy as it would like to be.

Business throughout the week is “challenging” at the White Swan at Fence​ in Lancashire, said owner Gareth Ostick.

The venue is currently ranked as the country’s 7th​ best gastropub.

To Ostick’s surprise, trade had been fairly consistent throughout September. “It’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be,” he said.

Guests come out in the week for special occasions, and luckily there was enough people celebrating, but he could always do with being a bit busier.

After Covid, the pub was consistently full for more than a year. “Then all of a sudden, it all suddenly drops off,” recalled Ostick. “You get used to trading at those levels.”

He added: “I don’t have a business without people in the pub. I need people to come through the doors.”

He thought people were dining out less regularly as they just didn’t have as much money to spend. Ostick’s always looking for ways to make his offer more appealing. “But I think my offer is very attractive,” he added.

Juggling plates

The White Swan offers just one set menu, which includes snacks, a fish course, a main course, and desserts. Its seasonal and changeable, with head chef Tom Parker currently blending together autumnal ingredients (think: venison, grouse, celeriac, blackberries) to create exceptional dishes.

Ostick offers a massive reduction on the menu during the week: it’s slashed from £80 to £55 per head. “I know it’s ridiculous value,” he said. “It’s to attract people through the door.”

Despite this, the pub still wasn’t full. “The majority of people are saving themselves for the weekend,” he explained.

And this was just one of many challenges facing the gastropub. It’s lost staff in the kitchen, lost staff out front, and Ostick is juggling charging the right prices with not overworking his staff.

He said: “There’s a very fine line that we’re walking, and I’ve got to be very careful we don’t fall on the wrong side of it.”

Everything had gone up in price, Ostick continued, and not even by a little bit. For instance, his energy bills will rocket by 78% next year, which meant he’ll have to cash out an extra £1,000 per month.

This meant Ostick had to ask himself difficult questions: “When does it stop becoming worth me doing it?”

Winter trade

But he’s not there yet. He said: “I can adjust things, and make it stay worthwhile. But I understand why a lot of places in the industry are making the decision to close."

Fingers crossed, Ostick hopes the gastropub’s reputation will keep things ticking over. He has a good database of people to reach out to, and the pub was already fully booked for Christmas day.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The White Swan had a great family of staff that all enjoyed working there. “We do have fun,” said Ostick.

It’s just a case of keeping the profile up, he added. “I am positive, because we can adjust things at the moment, and we can do what’s required to keep the business moving forward. But it’s not easy.”

He added: “The demand is here for us; I feel it’s still strong. That hasn’t changed over the years. We’re taking each month as it comes”.

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