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David Thompson

The Belgian Arms

The Belgian Arms is a picture perfect British country pub, set beside a village green with a duck pond nestled at its heart. We spoke to BII Member, David Thompson, Chef Proprietor about his journey in the hospitality industry, apprenticeships and his plans for the future.

How did you start your career in the hospitality industry?

Having left home at the age of 17, I have been living out of a backpack for most of my working life. I started out in the Lake District as a Kitchen Porter and very quickly realised that I wanted to be a Head Chef. After going to Dubai, (initially for 6 months) I ended up staying there for 3 and a half years, but I’ve cheffed in lots of different countries over my career, from Guernsey to Majorca and Switzerland. More recently though, I felt strongly that I wanted to return home, ultimately to start my own business.

I came back and worked with the Upham Pub Company at The Winning Post, where I took on the challenge of running their social media and learnt a great deal when I was there. I have applied those skills to my business now.  Social media is really powerful and in the 15 months since we’ve taken over, we haven’t spent a penny on online marketing. We’ve worked hard on getting the social side right – particularly Facebook and Instagram to support the great word of mouth and personal recommendation we have.

What made you choose your pub?

I knew the sort of food that I wanted to cook and knew that my style would work well with the clientele of The Belgian Arms. We took over the lease in June 2017 and reopened after a 2 week refurb. It was great to see the vision of what I wanted come to life and the Duck Pond is such a great, unique feature – it makes for some fantastic pictures in the summer.

Are there any new ideas you have introduced lately that have been a success?

We did Fizz and Chips for a while on Friday’s which was great, but we felt that we needed something new and different, so we’ve introduced Stews-days where you get a pot of stew with all the trimmings and 2 glasses of red wine. It’s been really well received as the weather has got cooler and has encouraged people into the pub earlier in the week which is great.

What tools help you most on a day-to-day basis in your business?

We use a staff planning service and Open Table for our table bookings, which I know a lot of individual pubs don’t often see the value of.  For me though, they save me a lot of time but more importantly, provide a wealth of business analysis and information that help me plan for the future and make the business a success. Technology is fantastic and we should embrace what it can do for us – especially as individuals.  We shouldn’t assume it is just for the big chains.

One of the biggest challenges in the industry is currently around the recruitment and retention of staff – how do you deal with that?

We have 5 apprentices at the moment and their development, along with the rest of the staff is really important to me. I had to do my time in some poorly paid jobs when I was first starting out, and there is a part of me that feels like that is a rite of passage that people should go through.  But then I think, why? We need young blood in the industry, and we have a lot of knowledge and skill to pass on. If we can afford to do that whilst giving people a decent wage and not making them work crazy hours, then that’s what we’ll do.

It takes a certain person to become a chef, but it really pays dividends when you realise that your staff are happy and developed well.  The time and effort you put in to them means that they are going to stay with you for longer, and hopefully only leave when they feel ready to take on their own kitchen or venue – that’s the ultimate goal.

What BII Member Benefits do you find most useful?

As a Brakspear pub, we are lucky to have a lot of support, but BII Membership is great from a few points of view for us.  I use the contract builder for my staff and have used the HR helpline on a couple of occasions now. I also really like the newsletters – they just give you a bit of insight into the trade that you can dip in and out of.

We won the Best Newcomer Award this year from Brakspear, which was fantastic. We will be looking into more competitions and thinking about getting a Rosette to give the staff something to work towards and be proud of.

What plans do you have for the future?

I have a great team here now – my General Manager and Head Chef are both people I had worked with previously and have seen their potential develop along the way. I’d really like to look at the possibility of another pub with Brakspear, and continue the success of The Belgian Arms.  I’ve never been one to sit still for long, so we’ll see what happens!

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