How did you get into the licensed trade?
When I left France and went to study in America, my first student job was in a restaurant. I started in the kitchen because my English was quite poor, and funnily enough I learnt Spanish because I worked for six months with Mexicans in the kitchen. After that, I decided that as soon as my English was better, I wanted to work in the front of house. That’s what happened, and I loved it.
When you work in our industry it’s much easier to find work in whatever country you go. I did work in Australia, Mongolia, America, Europe!
Tell us a bit about your venue and why people should visit
First of all, it’s a beautiful building, second of all when you are inside it’s obviously about our service and the food to provide, we cook everything from fresh. And I love history, I love historical buildings - in fact I think we have a ghost here, a nice one! The Old Customs House before being a fabulous pub, it’s an historical building. It has been for over 150 years owned by the Navy, and it has lots of stories… if the walls could talk!
We also get family members of the navy men who used to work here visiting – and they tell us their stories! Which is great, because people like to know about this building. There are 12 rooms and a lot of our customers like to wander around the rooms and they’re significant in relation to the navy, and the history of Portsmouth. For example we have a room called ‘Dickens’ room… people didn’t know, myself included, that Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth!
What are your goals for your business?
My goal is that every customer leaves happy. At the end of the day what we do for a living is to give a little bit of happiness to the people who come to see us.
What made you enter LOYA?
First of all the BII’s reputation, I think you are one of the most credible awards in our industry. And recently when I won the Griffin award, which is the biggest honor that we have at Fullers and something we take extremely seriously - so we said why not enter LOYA? It gave us the confidence to take that next step further.
What has been your experience of the judging process?
Because I’ve been through it before, through the Griffin awards with a similar kind of judging process, so I think it was pretty easy! Having a mystery diner was fine, when I met the judges they were great, they have a big knowledge of our industry so the credibility was right there and the presentation was fine – we didn’t have any problem whatsoever. I could have stayed talking with the judges another hour, but they had to go!
What do you see as the key challenges for today’s licensees?
I think what we have to be very careful of is what is happening with Brexit.
We can’t forget, that people don’t have to come to our places, they can stay home and have an enjoyable night and good food. What we have to be careful of, when we do a price rise, is that we are giving people value for money. We have to make them believe that our quality and the prices are in tune.
How do you motivate your team?
First of all it’s my passion! I’m extremely professional and I love what I do, so I try on a day to day basis to give them a little bit of that.
I try also to start from recruitment – recruitment is the base of our team.
You have to recruit people who probably have an intention to do a career in hospitality the industry, at The Old Customs House we all have in some way a passion, in different departments.
What is your favourite time of day as a licensee and why?
Every morning I wake up between 5:30 and 6 to walk to work, because I like the peace of the pub in the morning! I look at all the rooms, and see what we can improve in some areas.
What could you not do without in your day to day life as a licensee?
My team! If you have the best team, even if you didn’t have the best product in the world, you can get away with it. You need your team. It took me quite a long time here to build a team that works together with a strategy. A bit like a football team!
What is your proudest moment as a licensee?
The latest is definitely winning the Griffin award.
It’s not like an award ceremony where you sit down, it was the board of directors and the nominees. They explained the importance of that award, so it is very emotional. Definitely in the last year that has been my proudest moment – because it was not just me, it was my team and I all together.
How do you ensure excellent customer service every time?
Something I keep saying to our whole team, is that people are not coming to our place to reflect on what’s happening in the world. When they come here it’s to relax, and that’s what we have to give them. That’s why we have lots of people coming to see us, because they do enjoy the atmosphere of our place, on top of the service.
What I do because I’m from a restaurant background, I take the measures that you would in a restaurant. There is no reason that a pub with table service can’t work like a restaurant, so we have all these procedures to make sure the journey of the customer goes well. And we do not forget to do check-backs with the customer, I don’t want to invade their conversation but we always engage and want to know what is happening with them.
What’s the best part of the job you do?
It gives me a reason to wake up every day, that sense of achievement and to see customers happy.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as a licensee?
I used to work in a Michelin star restaurant and I remember my maître d' used to say: “You are all actors. Your script is the menu and what we taught you about service, and your knowledge.”
And I never forgot that, because we always have to be full of happiness with the customers. If something happens in a staff member’s private life you cannot bring that to work, you have to remember – we are actors.
What has been your biggest lesson learned in business?
Follow the rules. Our industry is changing all the time, the big lesson is not to set up in old ways – you have to move on with what is happening.
For example the latest big thing is allergies, you can’t ignore it, and it’s not going to go away. You have to respect all these compliances.
Your health and safety, your food safety, you can’t ignore any of that.
What qualities do you think have got you to this final stage in LOYA?Apart from our passion, we have consistency. It’s a huge challenge when you’re open 7 days a week, the customer who comes on Monday and the one who comes on Saturday always have the best service and best quality food.
What do you think winning LOYA would do for you and your business?
Another big moment of pride, achievement, another celebration with all the team and it would set an example to others – that you can do it! It can happen.