The Turks Head: ‘The business is in the best shape’

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Urban success: The Turks Head promises exciting things up its sleeve
Urban success: The Turks Head promises exciting things up its sleeve

Related tags London Great british pub awards Events

Business is in better shape than ever at the Turks Head in south London, which took home the title of Best City/Urban Pub at the Great British Pub Awards 2023.

The Fuller’s managed house, close to the English national rugby union stadium in Twickenham, nailed its mission to be a great all-round community pub with an energetic welcoming, according to judges.

Last year, the Turks Head entered the awards for the first time and become a finalist but missed out on winning.

It was “great” to be able to do the whole thing again, and act on feedback from the year before, said pub manager Ollie Coulombeau.

The team didn’t expect to win at all, he said. Frankly, he thought they were going to lose out to another finalist, so it was a “total surprise” when the Turks Head was read out on stage at a ceremony in the O2 Warehouse in Manchester on Tuesday 19 September.

“All our regulars are actually thrilled, and it’s nice to have a lovely trophy on the back bar,” said Coulombeau.

In this year’s judging process, the pub really tried to push how much its people were connected to its communities.

The staff are mostly based a few miles out from the pub. The manager said: “Over the last year, we’ve really focused on making that relationship with our community a two-way street, where we’re not just asking them to support us, but we’re supporting them as well.”

Since the pandemic, the pub has really nailed some key areas: its people, its community and its profits. “This year, a lot of stuff has slotted in and made sense, and the team has been together for a few years now” said Coulombeau. “Overall, the business is in the best shape.”

And this translates into awards and recognition, he added. “All of our plans came to fruition this year, and that’s what clinched [the award], probably.”

Planning ahead

Over the past year, there’s definitely been a lot to be proud of. Coulombeau’s deputy manager recently took on his first role as general manger, for instance.

“He started with me as bar staff four years ago and is now running his own business, so that was a super proud moment,” said the manager.

Winning awards also didn’t hurt. “Coulombeau said: It’s not why we get up in the morning, but it’s very difficult not to be proud of awards and also see how proud the team are as well.”

After bagging the title of Best City/Urban pub this year, the Turks Head threw a massive party. Customers were also coming through the door to chat about the award, so it’s also been a great thing for business, added the manager.

And has it impacted trade? “Without a shadow of a doubt,” he said. “Immediately after winning the award, we saw so many new faces, [and] we’ve had really positive press coverage, and people talking to us over the bar.”

At the moment, trade is good. There’s a lot of pressure on the hospitality sector, but Coulombeau said the team are working very hard, and the community is supporting them in a big way.

Christmas is looking “really busy and great”, he said, and then the pub will have to double down and focus on January where there’s likely to be a natural lull in business. Then, all eyes will be on the Six Nations, which kicks off in February 2024.

To combat the quieter post-Christmas period, the pub hosts a 10k race every year to draw in the New-Years-resolution-makers. It also serves up a huge range of low alcohol and healthy eating options.

This gives customers a reason to come out without indulging in food and drink, meaning January is actually a “really strong period,” said Coulombeau.

“Don’t get me wrong, people obviously spend a little less money in January, but we’re set up and ready to go for it,” he added.

He hints: “We’ve got some good surprises up our sleeves as well.”

'Put the application in'

But before then, there’s plenty guests can look forward to throughout the festive season. The Turks Head is running its very own Christmas panto, as well as carols and a festive menu which includes kids’ options.

There’s certainly lots in store for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and New Years Eve is expected to be “massive” as well.

But Coulombeau is also frank about the challenges facing the business. As a city pub, there’s more competition than venues in other settings, he said. “You really have to nail those USPs and the reason to visit,” he advised.

There’re around 30 to 40 pubs in the Turks Head’s local area. “You really have to champion excellence and be the best at whatever you choose to be the best at.”

He urged the Government to support hospitality in the Autumn Statement, which will be announced on 22 November by the chancellor.

“Ultimately, we can’t keep putting prices up. We need that support with our costs in order to keep the business profitable,” he said.

And does he have any words of advice for operators hoping to win big in next year’s Great British Pub Awards? He said: “Every if you don’t win or you don’t get to the final, the process will make you look at your business in a completely different way.

“With every stage you get through, just be super proud and share it with your team, because they are almost definitely the ones who have actually earnt it.

“So put the application in. That’s my tip.”

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