‘It’s hard to forecast anything at the moment’

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Pub perspective: operator of the Dog at Wingham Marc Bridgen highlights how trade is for the gastropub in the run up to the festive period
Pub perspective: operator of the Dog at Wingham Marc Bridgen highlights how trade is for the gastropub in the run up to the festive period

Related tags Gastropub Food Branding + marketing Kent

The unpredictability of trade is just one of the challenges outlined by one gastropub operator in the lead up to Christmas.

The Dog at Wingham, which was recently ranked as one of TripAdvisor’s hidden gems​ in the 2023 Travellers’ Choice awards, is nestled in the Kent countryside.

Currently, trade for the pub’s food and drink offer is going well, owner and GM Marc Bridgen outlined, with Christmas bookings well underway.

He said: “On 1 December, we had our first festive menu party booking. The weekend was fair, this week we have had a couple of decent bookings and today, a party of 27 for a Christmas booking.

“It is looking better than expected. November has been horrendous with a low footfall. Revenue was ok but pricing has gone up.”

“[We are] trying to be more positive and the first week was a bit better than expected on restaurant and bar.”

However, the pub’s accommodation arm, which has eight en-suite bedrooms, is an area of concern for the operator.

“Rooms are still struggling. I think accommodation will be pretty weak throughout December. Up until the end of October, we were 80% occupied but November and December were nowhere near that,” he said.

“Not having the rooms full is taking the profit out.”

Key dates

The pub will open on Christmas Day with drinks for locals and residents in the morning before hosting more than 50 guests for a five-course banquet lunch.

Looking ahead to the key trading dates across the festive period, Bridgen was more optimistic about the guest numbers.

He said: “The high days are nearly booked up, Christmas Day I could have sold many times over for lunch.

“Boxing Day is looking fantastic but after that there are still some spaces. They will come late but in a perfect world people would be a bit more organised.”

The gastropub owner outlined how New Year’s Eve was more last minute with bookings in the past but this year, things have changed for the better.

He said: “Traditionally, we would be selling New Year’s Eve in the week leading up to it for dinner and rooms but we have been fully booked for about six weeks.

“New Year’s Day is also quite well booked for the restaurant.”

While the lead up to the festive period has been quieter than anticipated, Bridgen was more optimistic about the peak Christmas time.

Hard to forecast

He said: “From 1 December to 22 December, those first three weeks aren’t quite as busy as we would hope.

“[But] between 22 December and 3 January, we will do four to six weeks money in a two-week period.”

Despite the slow down in customer spend and unpredictability in habits, Bridgen was hopeful for the December period.

He added: “Even though people are being cautious, it is definitely slowing people down but when the festive season starts, I think they will take the attitude of bugger it!

“I am hoping that despite how challenging the world is, we will have a good 10 to twelve days [but] it’s so hard to forecast anything at the moment.”

In a bid to boost accommodation, the pub offered a deal for Black Friday where guests received an extra 20% on gift vouchers that were bought, which brought in thousands.

Bridgen said: “We did approximately £20,000 on Black Friday gift voucher sales.”

On the subject of offers, the pub has also run package deals for guests combining dining and staying overnight.

In November, this was £400 for a two-night stay, available with a three-course meal on both days, valid Sunday to Thursday.

“Last January, we very quickly realised January, February and March were going to be more challenging than usual so we did a two night dinner B&B package at a real cut down price and it worked. We filled up and nearly sold out on them,” Bridgen said.

“We did the same launched in Nov and it did not sell. You can’t even give it away at the moment, people are just constricted.”

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