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The BII thrives on the diversity of its 9,000 plus members, and through case studies and interviews we're able to find out more about some of the individuals that make up our network in the licensed trade.

Click on any of the links below to read about the personal experience and benefits individuals have found since becoming members of the BII.

Rob and Lucy Brewer, MBII - The Pier House Hotel, Charlestown

Located on the picturesque Georgian harbour of Charlestown in Cornwall, Rob and Lucy Brewer’s pubs, the Pier House, Harbourside and Rashleigh Arms are set to provide tourists some much needed escapism this summer. BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to Rob about setting up retreats and finding their flow again. 

Famed for its stunning views, well documented by BBC’s Poldark, Rob and Lucy Brewer’s fleet of venues sit in the World Heritage Site near to where Rob grew up in St Austell. Having won the BII’s Licensee of the Year Award with the Rashleigh Arms in 2015, they soon added the Pier House and adjoining Harbourside to their portfolio. With St Austell unveiling newly rennovated larger scale hotels, the Pier House is set to expand their retreat offering, while the Harbourside remains a more relaxed community space this summer. 

“Towards the end of 2017 we were running four pubs and St Austell decided to invest heavily in refurbishing the Pier House. It made sense to concentrate on that rather than spread ourselves too thin.”
Just 35 yards from the Rashleigh, Lucy now works at the Pier House part time, with Rob acting as manager. “We took what was a niche hotel, somewhat quirky and impractical, and completely redeveloped it to make the route flow better and expand the business.

“The idea was to rejoin parts of the hotel that had previously broken off into segments. What’s now the reception area used to be a prop bar with a queue of people waiting to get served. There was an outdated a la carte menu separated by the resident’s lounge, so we opened everything right up.” Making the space lighter and more open plan meant that all hotel rooms could be accessed through the landing space, with one essential bar looking onto the terrace-with-a-view through double doors. 

“It made the customer journey easier, they could move from inside to outdoors with ease, rather than walking around the building through a side door,” a move that serving staff reacted positively to as well.

The menu didn’t escape refurbishment either. “We used to run three menus from one kitchen, a Harbourside menu, bistro for families and the outdated a la carte. It meant the chef was submerged by all the prep and different dishes going out, so we binned it and now have one for the Pier and one for the Harbourside.”


With business growing from the renovation, Rob is honest about the impact Covid has had on the business. Tier 2 saw a drop in sales of 80% and Rob estimates a turnover has been lost of around £1 million. But, both Rob and St Austell are feeling positive about the Pier’s power to “climb the mountain out of Covid” with nimble feet. Making the most of Brits wanting to find some escapism closer to home, the Pier House has become a retreat venue within the pub company’s managed estate. In a move set to future proof the hotel so it is a less seasonal operation, Rob says it will encourage visitors to see it as a getaway that can offer a great experience 12 months of the year. 

“With a more extensive wine list and menu, the Pier House operates to an average spend per head of £18, with a 45:45:10 split on food, drink and accommodation, but this has shown a rise on 2019 for the few months we were allowed to open last year.” Having grown up in St Austell, Rob is aware of the ambient power of the sea, with wife Lucy attending weekly “Swim and Tonic” meetings with fellow BII Member and LOYA winner Tanya Williams (of the Polgooth Inn).

“A lot of the brewery managed sites have the best location in Cornwall, we’re working to enhance that. We’ve added more choice to the wine list, fine-tuned the menu and are in the process of changing all glassware, crockery and staff uniforms. It’s been a massive development for the whole company really!”


Putting a positive spin on things, Rob says that closing due to Covid was an opportunity that “you just don’t always get to do these things.” More than a “getaway” concept to increase footfall in November and February, the retreats will see a move away from the one way systems and timed sittings influenced by Covid restrictions, into a service that will encourage customers to linger.

“Our guests have always wanted an experience, and it’s more important now because people have saved the money, and banked a lot of time spent with little diversion, to come out.” That eagerness shows in their emails, as Rob said he worked through upwards of 800 as soon as the date for reopening was unveiled. Accommodating all for dining and staycations, Rob has been working closely with the private landowner of Charlestown Harbour to rent outdoor space and increase covers by 30 tables, extending capacity from 80 to 110.

Well placed in the inner harbour where visitors can buy fish and chips, visit the rum bar, coffee shop, or delight in a summer BBQ, Rob is glad to have the Pier represented in St Austell’s food and drink hub. With guests encouraged to linger, the Pier House’s clientele are sure to be lapping up every ounce of experience long after the last waves of Charlestown’s tourists have returned home.

Having won LOYA in 2015 with the Rashleigh Arms, Rob and Lucy Brewer went on to take on the Pier House a year later. With the award opening up for applicants in 2021, Rob notes that now is a better time as any to get involved!

“As a process, LOYA gets you to look at your business with a fine tooth comb, you’ll look at the points you want to sell to the judges, but it will also give you a chance to look at some weaker spots and think about how to make them better.

“It is the toughest award out there, but it’s recognition from the heart of our industry. You find a whole network of people to connect with, and the support from the BII means it’s worth doing for that alone.”

Entrants this year will receive information packs detailing feedback from judges at every stage of the competition, meaning it’s a real opportunity to assess your business for the better.
Learn more about our Licensee of the Year Award here!

Keith Marsden, CBII - The Prince of Wales, Moseley

Having been out of the business for three years due to illness, Keith Marsden is now back at the Prince of Wales in Birmingham, a pub he originally joined in 2007. BII’s Eleanor Kirby chatted about cultivating excellence, bringing Mexican delights to Moseley and winning LOYA in 2015. 

The tied leasehold with Greene King was the perfect spot for Keith after a corporate career managing an extreme sports centre helped him gravitate towards the more social aspects of its bar and music venue. Save for a short career break due to illness, he hasn’t looked back since. 
“I returned to the business in September 2019 after 18 months away, and I’ve worked hard to bring it back to what I believe are the CORE principles – Commitment, Ownership, Responsibility and Excellence.” Talking humbly about the pub’s Tiki Bar and Wine Shed, Keith is worried that the theatre of these points of difference will be lost among Covid restrictions. “The Tiki Bar and Shed are high quality experiences with staff available to explain the notes of each drink, but booking online and sitting at the table has taken away that social interaction. They’re designed to be clinical.”



Theatre and entertainment that comes with the Tiki and Wine Shed have been put on ice for a while, on the warming plate instead are Marsden’s new foodie ventures. Inspired by his travels to California and its Mexican influence (“CalMex” as it’s known) Leaf Lovers and Taconistas have been developed to power the Prince of Wales into the delivery market. “We originally wanted it to be on Deliveroo as a migration strategy, but now have agreements with Just Eat and Uber Eats too. Leaf Lovers is our vegan street food brand created in December and Taconistas is my magpie idea. I saw some “shiny things” in America and thought I’d bring that creativity back to the UK.”


With Keith finding commission rates high across the board on the delivery apps (between 30-40%), he notes the balancing act of raising prices as not being entirely sustainable. “We did our market research and found one operator charging £16 for a burger to be delivered. Sure, when you pick up your phone at 7:30pm on a Friday and you’ve had a wine, you probably don’t care what you pay, but it’s not going to create an affinity with that business.”

As a migration strategy though, Keith says it works well. “It’s all about who owns the customer, and the apps own them at the moment. Strong branding, using the help of our designer and my marketing experience, will make the two feel recognisable standing alone, without the barrier of the apps.” Working to a GP of 50%, spend per head is between £25-28 for both brands, but the goal is to get this over £30, to help rebuild after an 85% reduction in revenue over the past 18 months. 

Leaf Lover’s vegan menu is a personal choice for Keith, as well as following the savvy trend. “We’re not campaigners, but it’s a lifestyle change – to help community health, as well as the planet. But we don’t compromise on taste.” Appealing to vegans, meat-eaters and flexitarians alike, the Leaf Lovers Kitchen is making its way to its own venue, despite utilising a similar range of ingredients (bar the vegan components) as Taconistas. On offer will be mains such as “Tofish and Chips” (marinated tofu in wakame batter), “Chilli non Carne” and “Chick’n” burgers, with classic twists on sides such as “Pomegranate Molasses Slaw” with vegan mayonnaise. 


It’s a move that sees the business open up into a wider brand that encourages footfall between pub, café and virtually via online ordering. A BII member since 2009, the CORE principles are also down to Marsden’s Licensee of the Year Award entry and eventual win in 2015. “I’m interested in excellence, and what better recognition for that is there than LOYA?”

Kickstarting entrants into merging all areas of their business from finance to experience, staffing and online presence, Keith hails the journey as being a valuable management tool. “It helped us look at the business in a different light, and was a great process to help us improve our performance as well as reflect on it. We entered twice, the first time we got to the finalists stage, but I think we eventually won because the process forced us to aim higher.

“Running a pub is a tough and competitive business right now, LOYA is a true test but you’re encouraged to interact with your other finalists, their operations, and learn from their excellence.” Keith couldn’t have come back to the business at a busier time, but using his time away from the industry to gather inspiration and regroup was time well spent. Whether you’re a leaf lover, taconista, savour the flavour of wine, or are freaky for Tiki, Keith has woven excellence into everything. 


Inspired by Keith and our other Meet the Member interviewees? The BII’s Licensee of the Year Award competition launched on 1st June and there’s still time to get your entries in!

Head over to our Licensee of the Year Award page to fill out our nominations form and read more about the entry requirements. 

Darran and Caroline Lingley, CBII - The Five Bells, Colne Egaine

Run by Caroline and Darran Lingley, the Five Bells proudly overlooks the Colne Valley in Essex. A freehold that pairs exposed beams with colourful and uplifting window displays, BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to Darran about putting pubs on prescription. 

At the time of writing, the windows of the Five Bells in Colne Egaine are equipped with a rallying display, “Proud to be a Great British pub: a hub for the community, supporting the local economy… the font of local knowledge, the original social network, promoting positive social interaction & combatting loneliness”. Apt phrases for any welcoming local, but Caroline and Darran have made them their ethos. When Covid first hit, a local retired-Policeman called Spike approached the pub to become a site for community responders to answer calls from locals. 
“We set up phone lines and computers that were manned 16 hours a day by 30 people at a time. We dealt with anything from people needing food shops, to those feeling lonely and needing someone to talk to.” Darran continues, “Normally, you’d walk into the pub, ask if someone knew an emergency plumber and someone would help. We just replaced that with a hotline.” With 150 volunteers working flat out for 100 days, the sunshine didn’t stop in the colder months either. Having met a local artist to adorn their windows with chalk pens, covering themes from Remembrance Sunday, International Women’s Day, and even body positivity, they decided to take window displays on tour. 
“We met our lovely artist Juliet, who started drawing snowdrops on windows to cheer people up, people would send us messages asking for the snowdrop fairy, which turned into the bluebell fairy in springtime. We did over 120 windows just from local requests.”

Despite the cheer and positivity being spread, fairy dust couldn’t magic away the impact Covid had on the business. “Before the pandemic hit, we had four pubs. One was too small to work economically with restrictions in place as the seating went down to 36 covers with no outside space.” Making redundancies and selling two pubs was a hard decision to make for Darran and Caroline, but it offered them time and space to come back to ideas they’d had in the past. 

“We’re down to the Five Bells and the Lion, and managed to borrow money to do the renovations we’d always wanted to do. We had to look into the crystal ball and thought about how to adapt to the changing industry.

“Investing in new outside spaces, beer huts, heaters, covered areas – they’re all things we would have done eventually, but at a much slower pace.”

This investment in the future has cost around £200,000, but Darran believes the pandemic has made him and Caroline more in tune with the needs of their staff, and in turn, their customers. “Last year was the hardest of our lives, but we needed to stay level-headed to support everyone. We are a lot more personal with the team now. We can adapt to customer needs too, whether it be easing anxiety about restrictions when revisiting, or being extra bubbly through all the masks and sanitisers.”

Embracing technology in the form of their in-house app that has helped the business move from takeaway off-sales, to table ordering through the stages of reopening (at a £6,000 development cost), Darran says, has meant that staff save time on administrative tasks, which could be better spent on making customers feel more comfortable. “There’s a lot of suffering going around, our customers have been stuck at home without their peers; Government should prescribe going to the pub – it’s about feeling part of the herd again. I would love to see our industry being socially prescribed for anxiety, depression and loneliness.”

A response to their own experience of sitting at home, wondering what to do, Caroline and Darran started an online event called “Darraline”, a cookalong livestream that peaked customer curiosity. “People watched it and regularly joined in the conversation, but they wanted to food and drinks too! We now sell 40-50 tickets for the events, charging £50 per head which includes food and wine pairings.”


Starting out with dishes like Caroline’s famous meatloaf or herb crusted salmon, Darraline are now famed for their paella takeaways that “put the sunshine back into home life”, selling 130 portions on a Saturday night in just one hour! When asked whether upselling was key to rebuilding their business after a hefty renovation, Darran says, “We upsell our time,” believing in “ethical selling”. 

“Once you get people in your zone and they trust you, you don’t have to sell. We don’t push items, we give them a good reason to support us by anticipating their needs, meaning we’ve also been able to reduce our range because we’re tailoring to our people.”

Covid has meant holding stock isn’t an option, but it also sharpened the couple’s ability to sense what customers need before they ask for it. “People are coming back out for the nostalgia of the pub, and that means comfort food.” Roasts, fish & chips and burgers are part of the menu limited to eight dishes, with interchangeable twists like a choice of burger bun. As well as pushing the creativity of their chefs, these condensed menus mean customers spend less time making their choice, and more time rebuilding happy memories. 

“Darraline” doesn’t stop there, as the duo have created a brand that has migrated from the pub’s Facebook pages and onto its own channel, where Caroline and Darran hope to take it on tour. After 19 years and counting at the Five Bells, the pair have yet to run out of innovative ideas (catch them on Instagram Reels for a true taste of the fun they bring to the business!)


Finalists of LOYA in 2008, and then winners in 2011, Caroline & Darran gravitated towards our Licensee of the Year Award as a way to be recognised by our industry. 

“Ultimately you want to be challenged. I saw it as a self-help scheme, it helped me get on track so I could come back stronger and eventually win after being a finalist. LOYA is about the journey to winning, teaching others what you’ve learned along the way, and by doing so, you learn even more.

“Our teachings from LOYA were what we recognised we love about the industry, that it’s constantly changing and challenging us. We’re custodians of this pub, and we have had a responsibility to adapt it throughout Covid.” 

Head over to our Licensee of the Year Award page to fill out our nominations form and read more about the entry requirements. 

Nicola Storey, FBII - The Mustard Pot, Capel Allerton

Situated in Chapel Allerton near Leeds, The Mustard Pot has morphed from country house, to pub, wedding venue and now online cocktail brand. BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to licensee Nicola Storey to talk setting up shop and winning crowd support. 

A traditional pub in the picturesque village of Chapel Allerton (voted one of the top 10 places to live by The Sunday Times in 2018), it’s no wonder The Mustard Pot has thrived as a venue for social gathering, it holds all the secrets of a country house within its walls. Built in 1750, the building was converted from The Clough House and turned into a pub in 1970.
“I’ve been here for fifteen years as a tenant with Marstons” says Nicola Storey. No stranger to the history of the building, Nicola says she’s met some of the previous inhabitants. “A guy came round one day, he said he was nearly 100 and was born in the house. He told me so many stories!”. 

With her team of 21 staff currently furloughed as The Mustard Pot weathers the third lockdown of the pandemic, Nicola has been proactive in boosting funds. 

Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post about the Crowdfunder Storey set up in June 2020 for the pub, she said, “We are in unimaginable debt, and despite us trying everything we can think of to pivot the business, none of the numbers stack up. We are desperate.”

Having raised £15,155 in 243 days, Nicola looks back with a feeling of gladness. “We didn’t get a grant the first time around as we have a Rateable Value of about £135,000, so we were struggling and fed up.

“We wanted to show people the reality, instead of saying ‘everything’s fine because we’re selling cocktails’, I wanted people to feel enthusiastic about helping us before we went bankrupt, before it was too late”. 

Currently on a 90% reduction in their rent payments from Marston’s, Nicola says the money from the Crowdfunder and £11,000 in grant money has made her half as stressed as she was the first lockdown. 

“Applying for grants in Leeds has been so streamlined, we lined up all our information on rates, business accounts and sent it off, the money came in just a few weeks later”.

Alongside home-schooling, Nicola is delivering pre-mixed cocktails locally through the online counterpart to The Mustard Pot. The Mustard Shop’s specialties are the Pornstar Martini, which sells five times more than anything else, closely seconded by the aptly names “Quarantini”.

With a GP of 71%, these cocktails are high earners and, although Nicola says she only has plans to run them seasonally at the moment (for the big dates like Valentine’s, Mother’s Day and Easter), average spend per head has increased from £15 (in usual trading) to £19.

“It involves a bit of a balance between what we think will sell, what we can make with little wastage (to our time as well as product). We did an Eggnog cocktail for Christmas which took too long to make, so I learnt this tip quickly! 

“We sold our stock of drinks so quickly in the first lockdown, we knew we had to turn this into more of a venture and drinks would help us keep costs lower than if we did takeaways.” 

Set up in less than two hours, the shop is run through Shopify (for around £25 per month with added commission per order), Nic hails it as being incredible for insights.

“I was looking at it this morning and I could see there were 10 people browsing, which converted to 6 orders. I’ve also linked it to social media, so, say I put something on Instagram, I can see who followed the link in my bio, how many people went through to purchase, and who used tools like Apply Pay.”

A quick Google search meant that Nicola found packaging suitable enough to start taking orders, squeezy plastic bags with spouts on, but is now fine tuning the process to include reusable mason jars. Being more sustainable, Nic thinks she could introduce a scheme that offers discounts if customers return their jars upon reordering.

Finding The Mustard Pot online and on social media was a real treat for the eyes, with the Shopify being no exception. 

“I’ve got no clue what I’m doing and don’t really know how it all works, but I’ve realised that everyone is sat at home on their phones at the moment, scrolling, and if we can post something that looks great then people might buy something off us”. 
Nicola has nailed her routine for taking new pictures for the shop, her motto being “to add in your personal touches”. White backgrounds are a must for taking photos of new cocktails, but on social media, you can also spot some historical photos of The Clough House that shed light on the pub’s domestic past. 

“Customers loved the fact they weren’t just more business posts and it was just a bit more of an insight into the building and its past life”. 

A recent webinar hosted by Avocado Social mentioned personal and unedited touches like this as a key aim for licensees on social media, listing topics such as laidback Instagram Lives, cook-a-longs or behind-the-scenes videos to keep customers engaged as you make plans to reopen. 

Storey highlights the benefits of information sharing between likeminded business people too. “Someone set up a Whatsapp group for bar and restaurant owners across the North of England, it’s full of people sharing their experiences with things like grants.
“Licensees in places like Manchester and Liverpool would feed back and tell us how they were doing in another tier. It was really useful to pre-empt restrictions and feel supported by other business owners”.

Support has also reared its head in the form of BII Membership where Nicola (FBII!) has made great use of our Trusted Partners directory, Staff Contract Builder and also made it to the final stages of our Licensee of the Year Award in 2017 too. 

We’re certain The Mustard Pot and its sister shop will continue to be well positioned as we look towards the warmer and kinder summer months. 

Lee Price, CBII - The Pier, Aberystwyth

Built in 1865 to give the Victorians a taste of the sea without taking their feet off solid ground, The Royal Pier is now a well-established attraction in Aberystwyth. Boasting a pub, restaurant, bar, fish and chip shop, and with pivotal plans in place for reopening, BII’s Eleanor Kirby couldn’t wait to find out more.

Having worked at The Royal Pier for over 25 years, Head of Operations, Lee Price, knows to be wary of stagnant waters. Over lockdown, the Licensee of the Year Award Winner (2014) and his loyal team of Operations Managers have done all they can to make sure the historical attraction is fit for our modern attraction to freshly prepared food, outdoor dining and the theatre of good hospitality. Without a roadmap for businesses in Wales (at the time of writing), future planning has been tricky, but Lee is still confident in his management of reopening the first time around.
“When lockdown was first lifted, we opened the ice-cream parlour, the fish and chip shop and the sundeck for outdoor drinks straight away. We left the pub itself closed, because we wanted to see the support the sundeck was getting first.
“After that, we brought everything else on one by one, so we could make sure the safety measures were effective. The pub was last to come on-board, 3 or 4 weeks after and then we left the club to the very last minute.” Industry-wide, there was a sense of anticipation, wondering if customers had become too accustomed to staying indoors and making their own fun from supermarket “tinnies” and the Netflix Top 10.
“We feel more confident this time around. People were like caged animals on the sun deck, everyone was excited to be out, but we had to manage this so we could follow the guidelines effectively. Shield Safety’s Risk Assessment (details below) was helpful in getting us to think of a plan to keep everyone safe.”
The mix of different business models all housed on one platform meant that Lee could repurpose each space as needed.  “We had about a week where we bought pop up tables and benches to pivot the (usually 650-capacity) club into an eating space. But reminding freshers to sit back down at their table and not go to say hi to their friends really threatened the reputation of the club.  “It was a great social space, and then all of a sudden it became a sterile seating area that just didn’t work for us. We took the decision to close it permanently during lockdown, the staff moved to other departments on the pier to meet demand.”
Working away in the background, Lee has been submitting planning applications to see the heritage site benefit from a retail space and decking area to help cater for the growing popularity in hospitality businesses offering daily shop essentials.  With Aberystwyth attracting over 250,000 visitors in usual times, The Royal Pier is the focal point that offers fun for all ages. "After building the decking area at the front of the pier, we realised a lot of people were using it to cross over to the amusements, fish and chip shop, billiard bar or pub. We looked at the space and created 32 covers, each with parasols and heating lamps too. We’re also adding a BBQ zone to feed the sun deck.
“Usually, when the weather turned or it started to rain, people disappeared. But now we have the option of having this additional cover and the retail space, it will make the pier a stop off point for people walking past, as well as the main attraction.”
With so much appetite for the freedom of ordering a drink at a bar, or making memories with friends surrounded by the ambience of rolling waves, Lee is confident that pricing needs to be premiumised rather than pander to promotions. “When we put a stop to match promotions, 2 for 1 cocktails and happy hours last Summer, we weren’t finding that people were up in arms. We were respected for it, we didn’t want to be seen as being ‘dirt cheap’, our customers want to invest in quality, something that warrants parting with a bit more cash.
“We want visitors to know they’re sitting in clean, comfortable furniture, playing the best games, eating fine ingredients, and, with our current renovations, we need to see a return somehow. We didn’t find the spend per head differed any more than usual either, people were spending the same but we were getting a better return.”
The experiences to be found on The Royal Pier can’t be matched by Zoom socials, something Lee has found from the amount of customers tagging them in “on this day last year” memories on social media. “People are sharing what they miss, and the places they’ll return to,” says Lee. Despite income in 2020 being 50% down on like for like months in 2019, Lee is still keeping customers engaged with his anti-sales attitude to marketing. Rather than promoting a deal on ice cream, Lee takes images that highlight the unrivalled scenery, staff personalities and show off a sense of humour (most notably in the Donald Trump scarecrow he fashioned that went viral). The powerful silhouette of the pier against sunset is something that has also been picked up by BBC Winterwatch who document the yearly visits and murmurations of the starlings that have chosen the pier as their meeting point.
Pleasure piers are historically the places for kitsch fun, sticks of rock and arcade games, but for visitors to The Royal Pier, the experience is far more sophisticated. After weathering the pandemic storm, the sun is set to shine again, the starlings will return, the BBQ fired up, essentials stocked up, and we’ll all be ready to make memories once more.
The BII’s Licensee of the Year Award is launching a little later than normal this year, but 2014 winner Lee is still keen to inspire the next generation of entrants to grow into finalists… “It was huge honour to be a LOYA winner, I connected with some amazing people and I learnt so much from those I have crossed paths with as a result of winning. I’ve made some brilliant friends like Ashley McCarthy (of Ye Old Sun Inn) and I’ve gained a mentor in Chris Welham (who used to be CEO at Wadworth).
“These contacts, these friends, are hugely helpful to have at the end of the phone whenever I’m in trouble or need advice.
“The process is a bit of a business interrogation, but as it should be. I’m hugely proud of being the first Welsh winner, and it has given me such a credible voice, people pay attention to it because the process is so vigorous you really are considered the best of the best.
“It was like a business health check, if I hadn’t have won, I still learnt so much about myself and the industry.”

Richard Edwards, MBII - The Potters Arms, High Wycombe

With its rich background in comedy nights that have been host to Rob Brydon amongst other big names, The Potters Arms is nestled between High Wycombe and Watford, with all the benefits of a market town community. BII’s Eleanor Kirby spoke to licensee Richard Edwards to talk about key investments and keeping customers enthused. 

Once tenants of Brakspear in 2012, Richard raised funds to purchase The Potters Arms in 2018. Influenced by their backgrounds in restaurants and with experience in the wine cellar at Harvey Nicholls in Manchester, the pub usually operates at a split of 40% food, 45% drink and 15% rooms, with a comedic twist.

“I’d been trying to get Rob Brydon to perform a comedy set at the pub for years, and when the contracts lined up it just so happened that we were raising funds to buy the pub. We had 300 guests, with takeaway boxes of fillet steak for the interval!”

They certainly reached their goal, and so a pair of free-traders were born. Going back a few years from Brydon’s debut, Richard had deliberately put himself at the epicentre of comedic performance by using his precious time off productively in the early days.
“Obviously being in hospitality my days off tended to be Mondays and Tuesdays, I used to take myself off to the Comedy Store in Leicester Square. After the final act I’d stay behind and, being the personality I am, I met up with the comedians afterwards. They became good friends that way”. 
Connections made include Andy Parsons and Zoe Lyons, as well as carving out a reputation for The Potters Arms being the only other venue the Comedy Store will venture to outside the perimeters of Leicester Square. A pretty incredible feat considering tickets were a very reasonable £20 with an interval meal included.
Richard distinctly remembers a young Romesh Ranganathan whom he paid £150 to do a 20 minute set. “There’s no way I’d get him for that now!” It pays to have some of that Comedy Store zeitgeist rub off!
In the throes of the first lockdown, Richard received a BounceBack loan soon after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the one year interest-free finance. 
“We used it to build our terrace bar, we got a draught pull out there, a pizza oven, an ice cream machine… we even do alcoholic slush puppies.”
Popularity speaks for itself as Richard highlights that the number of pizzas sold from August 2019 to March 2020 was 220, rising to 1000 just 6 weeks after the first terrace Potters Pizzas were flung in the air. 
With the scent of freshly made pizzas meeting the noses of local explorers, it’s no wonder they’re one of the best-selling items from the terrace bar. 
“All flavours bring in a GP of about 80-85%, we have a five meat farmhouse pizza, but also do the classics, and our vegan options are popular too.” These are priced between £12.50 and £13.95, to reflect the high quality ingredients and affluent local area.
“Pre-Covid, I always said that the location is a destination place, you’ll only chance upon us if you’re driving to meet someone or you’re lost! 
“Recently, though, it has worked in our favour because of the amount people are going for their daily walks. The Times Magazine featured us in October and published a local walk in Amersham, with us as the place to stop for lunch.”
“I’m in the process of joining Just Eat, we currently have an app which lets customers order online for click and collect, and I installed a Ring video doorbell so if anyone wants to stop by they can still receive our best service.
As well as Just Eat, Richard has further targeted locals through High Wycombe Eats which has a similar business model. 
“My motto is quality and consistency and that fares really well on these apps. I think they’re a really good way to get us out there and target a new group of people. We’ve also started baking our own cakes and getting donuts from a local baker”. 
This cross over with using local suppliers is also a brilliant way to introduce new customers via their new products as suppliers can often bring their own following your way too. 
Currently closed after their Christmas appeal, Richard raves about Save Pub Lives, the voucher programme run by Budweiser that saw him rack up over £2,000 in vouchers that customers could spend in the pub or terrace bar upon reopening. 
“After the first lockdown Save Pub Lives did vouchers for pubs where they would match any purchases up to the value of £1,000. Then, after the November lockdown it was changed slightly to a concept more suitable for Christmas – say someone bought a friend a voucher for £100, this was matched so the friend could go with them.”
Further funding came from the Christmas Support Payment (Wet Led Grant) as Richard was keen to read into eligibility that said it applied to pubs making less than 50% of their sales from food. 
The Potters Arms is the haven where creativity, comedy and number crunching meets. As one local newspaper said, “this traditional pub will tickle your funny bone”, we very much hope there is comedy in store on the horizon. 

David Burgoyne, FBII - The Shakespeare Inn, Lake District

David and Lynne Burgoyne first came to the attention of the BII team when Lisa from our membership team, visited while on Summer staycation. “We were blown away by the attention to detail at The Shakespeare Inn”, she said, prompting Eleanor Kirby to discover more.

Describing The Shakespeare Inn to the team, the BII’s Lisa Rayment was awestruck by how David and his wife Lynne created a safe and calming atmosphere. Situated in Kendal, the gateway to the  picturesque Lake District, and offering five guest bedrooms, David (a one-time bridal and evening wear advisor) and Lynne (a Legal Secretary) first came across the pub in 2015 and, having taken it over, have gone on to build up an eclectic mix of regular trade and visitors.

“Our social media reviews really help us bring first-time visitors in, our current TripAdvisor score is about 4.5 and Facebook is 4.9,” said David. 

Reducing capacity from 60 to 30 heads per sitting – devoting upstairs to dining, with drinks  ownstairs – as part of their social distancing strategy, David and Lynne saw an opportunity to go further in order to set themselves apart from the competition, as they prepared for reopening in July 2020.

“We added screens, did a risk assessment and introduced measures that saw customers greeted at the door. It all created a really good ‘flow’ around the pub and that’s why customers kept coming back.”

Using red rope and a red carpet to guide visitors from the entrance, along the one-way system, added a bit of glamour to the proceedings, which included checking guests’ temperatures at the door. “We have managed to have a little fun with this, as it’s another opportunity for customer interaction and to put people at their ease. Sometimes I mix in a ‘hands up’ to lighten up the situation,” David laughs.

All these changes have also meant that, when the rule of six came in, there wasn’t a need to chop and change anything. “We just had to create more tables of six,” he explains.

Pre-lockdown, the sales split at The Shakespeare was 70% wet and 30% dry, but with the introduction of new dishes to the menu and events, food sales have grown by 20%, by comparison to autumn 2019.

“We’re now operating at 50/50 wet and dry, but it has involved an awful lot of hard work. We have made people feel safe and comfortable, reduced our menu, and added a more distinctive vegetarian and vegan offer.

“At the moment, we’ve dived deep into what we call ‘Two’s Company’, which is a selection of starters, more nibbly things. Customers can choose any three starters from a choice of 18 and then have a main. It has resulted in people staying for longer and spending more, because they feel comfortable and like the informality of adding another plate to the table.”

Themed evenings are also a great success, with events like “Fish and Fizz”, “Sunday Lunch Club” and “Wine O’Clock”, it’s no wonder they have managed to maintain the trading levels seen during  August’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme. “Food sales have increased so much that there has been little or no waste, which is a lovely position to be in,” says David.

Creating a bit of theatre around the menu too has created a ‘celebratory feel’, which is appreciated by customers, especially as their re-emerged after the lockdowns.

“If customers come in at 5.30pm and we don’t have a second sitting on that table, we encourage them to stay and order another round of drinks, which sees the average spend per head rise to £25-30, whereas before it would have been around £15.”
With such creative, yet streamlined, menus, David and Lynne are keen to protect The Shakespeare’s reputation for fresh food, even with the threat of price hikes coming into place this month (January). “I firmly believe fresh is best but I recognise too that we have to adapt the business if changes make that necessary,” he says.

“We spend the most with local suppliers, who we have a good relationship with, and often get them to price match deals we’ve found elsewhere. Having loyalty reciprocated allows us to protect our business.” David and Lynne also work proactively with the team, to encourage the sharing of new ideas.

He explains: “We arrange a staff meeting when the tips jar is full, which gets everyone together, and we do a Q&A session to encourage their ideas. They get their tips at the end of it and it sees everyone being actively involved in the business.”
With much uncertainty around the build-up to Christmas and the opportunity to host groups of 20-30 people having “gone out of the window”, the couple feel secure in the knowledge that the increased food trade has provided stability.

“We used to have a members club called ‘Friends of the Shakey’, which discounted the price with each drink ordered. But we’ve had to suspend it for now. Customers have been very understanding and, if anything, because we’ve ramped up the food, people don’t come in for the discounted pint, but would rather eat and invest in us.” 

With customer testimonials from key workers describing the pub as ‘one of the venues they feel safest visiting’, David concludes: “It’s very rewarding and tells us the measures we’ve implemented are what people are want and are expecting to see from the industry.”

James Barbour, MBII - Box End Park, Bedford

When floodplains stopped farming on the family’s land, James Barbour took over the business and set about creating Box End Park, now a fully-fledged watersports and activity centre, with a 45-cover restaurant, corporate functions and a wedding offer. BII’s Eleanor Kirby reports.

Originally a farm in the 1950s, James Barbour took over the land that is now Box End Park from his father in the 1990s. But as floodplains impeded the possibility of growing produce, James worked with what nature had provided to open a 100-acre, purpose-built watersports and leisure park in 2007.

 Box End Park has continued to evolve over the years and currently comprises the Corner 5 Restaurant and bar area, offering guests a lakeside setting in a stunning building with panoramic windows, along with corporate and conference facilities, and a ‘special occasions’ element, which caters for weddings and functions. Box End Park is licensed for civil ceremonies and partnerships.

Still a family business, the day-today management is handled by James, who is also responsible for the indoor hospitality. Brother-in-law, Russ, heads up watersports, while James’s wife Hannah, runs the accounts. And speaking of accounts, James is pleased to report that takings for autumn 2020 were up against 2019, despite the pandemic.

“Last year we were doing £6,000- 7,000 per week, but this autumn we were taking £9,000. We were completely shut for the first six to eight weeks during lockdown, until May when we found out that we could restart watersports. With open air swimming slots bookable at £5 per session, we were back open and operating with minimal staff and a lifeguard, and getting up to 100 visitors a day! “We’re essentially selling space on a lake with people able to come and go as they please.”

The park and its facilities attracts a broad spectrum of visitors – from the more mature customers to the younger hobbyists, along with parents who bring their children to play on the water. “It creates a melting pot of people, which could be a source of conflict where the restaurant is concerned, as people are there in wetsuits and board shorts, but it all works well.

“People enjoy observing the sports, and it creates a relaxed atmosphere.” (James mentions that the lake’s popularity got a massive boost during the London 2012 Olympics, when the Brownlee brothers, medal winning triathletes, became poster boys for swimming.)

As the warm, early summer of 2020 arrived, it was clear to James that their watersports facilities would once again make a big splash. They welcomed 600-800 people a day at one point. As soon as the trading restrictions allowed, they went for a ‘soft’ reopening of the Corner 5 Restaurant. “We have always printed our menus on A4 paper, which makes it easier to change our menu, depending upon the ‘special’ on offer from our suppliers.

“We keep very low stock levels and tweak our orders daily, if needed. We’ve been finding everything  lot easier with 95% of customers booking, compared to a normal summer where we might have had 20 people booked for lunch but end up doing 60+ covers.”

To make the most of all ingredients, the menu has a returned to a ‘comfort food’ offer and uses ingredients grown on their own land – a nostalgic nod to the Barbour’s farming days.

“Working with our Chef, Shaun, we have started serving homemade pies, which yield a fantastic GP: we have pulled pork with a honey mustard filling, or a minted lamb filling. The pork and lamb uses trimmings from our roasts – a great way to repurpose left-overs. With a short-crust case, puff pastry topping and a rich stock to go inside, they’re substantial and amazingly flavoured.

“Desserts are also a great way to utilise our own produce and cut costs. We have an apple crumble that’s made from apples grown on our trees and blackberries picked from the farm’s hedgerows. This all helps produce a great margin, but it is also lovely to have our own produce on the menu.”

Making the most of home-grown and left-over ingredients, James is able to maximise the profit on the £7 average spend per head for a light lunch. And while customers are enjoying comfort food, James has noticed that many are keen to treat themselves to top-end products.

“From the moment we reopened, we found people were so much more appreciative of us, after three months of home cooking! Spend per head has gone up in the evenings, with guests increasingly interested in our small, but niche, wine selection.

“Customers are treating themselves and going for the more expensive bottles, like Champagne and Châteauneufdu-Pape. We’ve probably sold more ‘high-end’ wines in the past couple of months than we have in the last two years,” says James, adding that driving return visits was also key. “Encouraging people to return not once, but twice or more has been our main focus, so we’re  looking to introduce a loyalty card. For instance, on your second visit, you’ll get a bottle of wine, the third a free dessert. I’ll let you know how it goes at the end of January!”

In the place of corporate bookings, they are offering gift vouchers to companies to give to their staff  compensation for missed Christmas celebrations. But rather than a blanket email to all customers, James prefers to tailor offers for each group (corporate, sporty and restaurant goers).

“Our online booking system is run by a local business, Avenista, which helps us capture email addresses. We have a database of 6,000 contacts, which we import into Mailchimp for our email campaigns. It costs us £40 to £50 for an electronic campaign, but you immediately know who has opened/clicked through.”

There’s plenty at Box End Park to keep James and the team busy and by the time you’re reading this, they will hopefully be back at the Corner 5 Restaurant, refreshed after their break and getting ready for whatever 2021 will bring.

Simon and Samantha Stonehouse, MBII - Black Boy, Oxford

Opening a new pub just a few months before lockdown hasn’t stopped this invincible husband and wife duo, Simon and Samantha Stonehouse MBII, from creating something special for their local community, reports Eleanor Kirby.

Whilst their trading continues to be restricted they need support in terms of grants and compensation for their critical December trading.  Without this and the surety of a VAT reduction and business rates holiday throughout 2021 as they rebuild their While searching for their perfect pub, Simon and Samantha Stonehouse came across The Black Boy in Headington, Oxfordshire. But it was meeting the team at the Leicestershire-based brewer and pub owner, Everards that sealed the deal, as they realised the advantages of being part of an established, family-owned business that oozed warmth and support. 

Having signed a 10-year contract with Everards, they began making plans to refurbish the pub to create an attractive lunchtime spot, as well as a romantic setting for a date or dinner, for a December 2019 opening. “The pub was slowly building trade and then Covid came along,” says Samantha, adding, with all the enthusiatic energy that comes with a new endeavour: “But we didn’t let that batter our sails, we simply adjusted them!

“Everards has been a great partner as well as activating a rent-free holiday, the team was also on the end of the phone, if we needed any questions answered or just for some moral support during the height of the pandemic.” This financial and empathetic support meant that Simon and Sam had energy reserves to think about how to move forward and diversify. “We turned the front of the pub, our snug, into a community shop and worked hard to spread the word that we were open six-days a week selling fresh produce and kitchen essentials.”

“We wanted the shop to be a deli-style operation, promoting and shouting about all of Oxfordshire’s amazing produce,” Simon continues. Establishing themselves as part of the community was a great way to publicise that this well-established pub, which had benefitted from a brand-new look, was now under the control of new tenants. Home deliveries served the locals during lockdown, accompanied by “Casual Coffee” on Fridays, as the Government restrictions began to ease and allowed people to get out and about again.

Free coffee and cake was also given away to thank the community for its support. The success of the community shop led to a takeaway offer, with the pair signing up to Deliveroo as a way to get food to people efficiently, while creating a new customer base too.

“Having to diversify in the way we did meant that we were able to streamline the business and look at new systems and standards, helping us work hard on new income streams,” says Simon, hailing Deliveroo as a fantastic tool to “switch on when it’s quiet”. Simon says that Deliveroo yielded roughly 33% of weekly sales during lockdown, but with more choice available and higher uptake on the Eat Out to Help Out (EOTHO) scheme, it now only makes 2-5% per week in sales. “I believe it was a great tool to drive off-sales and generate new guest awareness for our pub. You do have to look at the cost versus profit carefully as delivery partners can take a hefty bite out of your profit.”

At one point during lockdown Simon and Samantha were welcoming 100 people for takeaway  collection per night – the overwhelming majority of whom are gradually making their way back  through the door for eat-in meals. Sam has also been utilising her wealth of knowledge in marketing and events well, coming up with new ways to engage with locals and customers from further afield. “Because of social distancing, you can’t have a full pub, but you still need to maintain a strong income. Upselling to guests has been important, as well as using social media well. We have seen great guest loyalty accrue simply through our regular posting and tagging the pub in other people’s posts”.

The couple have accrued solid trade experience over the years, with Simon working in pubs and restaurants since he was 18. With a smile, he asks: “Guess where Sam and I met?” It was in 1996 at The Catherine Wheel in Henley on-Thames.

Growing together and having a shared professional life has led to many creative endeavours. Over the past 30 years, Simon has run large multi-million-pound sites to smaller village pubs, while Sam implements sales and marketing strategy through her umbrella business, Fabulous PR.

A community pub, describing itself as being “here for every occasion”, the pair have worked hard to provide customers with plenty of reasons to visit regularly. From supper clubs, yielding £60 per head, the £25 per head Bottomless Brunch, to ‘Casual Coffee’ on Fridays.

Another element of their business empire is Lamb Catering, a business they purchased in 2017 and which services weddings, events and also dinners at The Black Boy.
Born from an unrivalled love of putting on a chef’s jacket and hosting dinner, Simon has a hand in creating new dishes, menu writing and working with new ingredients – which explains the 40/50/10 split on wet, dry and accommodation trading (The Black Boy has five rooms for guests who enjoy the immersive experience).

“The Eat Out to Help Out scheme has been great, but what’s next? It was a short-term fix for a long-term problem. A VAT reduction to 5% on drink sales and a look at beer duty would help a broader spectrum of pub businesses”, says Sam.

Simon continues: “We’re grateful we could implement it in the restaurant, but it did bring its own issues, we had a very busy start to each week, rivalling Friday and Saturday trading, but Thursdays were slow.”  Optimising GP margins, The Black Boy boasts a wide range of low and no options.  “There has been a massive growth in new options becoming available, so we stock everything from non-alcoholic beer to mocktails.”

With customer habits continuing to shift as confidence levels change, the enthusiastic partners – in love and in business – are proving they have the ability, the drive and the determination to grasp every new opportunity to secure a strong future.

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