James & Tom Bainbridge
Brakspear - The Tilbury - Datchworth, Hertfordshire
(Answers provided by James)
How did you get into the licensed trade?
We both had a taste for hospitality, working in a local hotel as teenagers whilst studying. We already had 2 brothers pursuing a successful career in hospitality, so I decided to follow the same path.
Apart from working in the local hotel and being an incredible amateur cook, Tom was new to the trade when we decided to start our own business and operate The Tilbury.
Tell us a bit about your venue and why people should visit:
The Tilbury delivers food and service to a high standard but always with a relaxed informal approach. It’s the complete package, we concentrate on with service and experience being as important as the food and drink. The team are friendly and welcoming and want our guests to enjoy themselves.
We also have a diverse, award winning, wine list that gives our guests great variety of styles and countries of origin with a well-trained team able to discuss the wines and serve them properly.
What made you enter LOYA?
My wife nominated us which sparked us to enter. We are very proud of what we do and thought you never know we may progress. Being such a prestigious award with such a high standard of competitors we are delighted to be in the final six.
What has been your experience of the judging process so far?
We have found it a lot more engaging and detailed than any other awards we have been shortlisted for or won in the past. We were impressed that the standards where set to be the same for all mystery visits and that the visit remained a mystery as we can often spot assessors.
The interview was a great experience with some tough questions but it felt like a discussion rather than a straight question answer situation.
Also, the fact that Sue and Ashley interviewed all 12 semi finalists themselves keeping it fair and level shows the caliber of this award. We have enjoyed the process so far and hopefully will enjoy the final judging day.
What qualities do you think have got you and your pub to this final stage in LOYA?
We are committed to our teams and pride ourselves on being good employers.This we feel gives us a product driven by people that care and show pride themselves in what we do.
We approach what we do with a lot of thought and we are never satisfied that everything is good enough always striving to improve.
What do you think winning LOYA would do for you and your business?
It would give us and our team gratification for all the hard work put into making The Tilbury what it is. This will add a huge amount to team morale, which in turn will benefit service and staff retention.
To be winners will also be a useful credential in attracting future team members. Personally it would hopefully lead to opportunities for us to be involved with BII projects and networking with fellow licensees.
What do you see as the key challenges for today’s licensees?
The financial climate of the country is having an impact. We have found from our experience that it has not stopped most people from spending but there are higher expectations for quality and value.
Recruitment of chefs is also a challenge that we feel most are feeling. This has made us focus even more on team retention.
How do you motivate your team?
We do a lot of on-the-job positive training and try to breed a 'train a trainer' attitude within the teams. We keep the teams informed of reviews both positive and negative. We also organize an annual staff party at the start of the year for both our pubs combined which is always looked forward to. The teams also organize day trips themselves which we encourage and contribute toward.
An ethos we have always used and we encourage our managers to use is constant gentle pressure and we have found this way of thinking keeps the teams on their toes whilst being motivated.
What has been the most successful new idea you have introduced to your business recently?
We have just started a 'weekly development nigh't every Wednesday, where Tom and the kitchen team will come up with a new pub dish that we offer to customers for £10. We then ask for feedback and suggestions for future dishes.
This has only been running for a few weeks but has already had some positive feedback. It has instantly added 10 extra guests on average to a Wednesday evening, solely from social media release of the dish on the day.
What’s the one thing you would tell your younger self starting out?
Be patient with your career and absorb as much knowledge from the people you work with as you can.
This isn’t to say I didn’t do this, but I did progress quickly at a young age. This made my first managerial roles very difficult as I was lacking depth of knowledge at the time.
Tom would say follow your passion, be good at what you do and financial reward will follow with contentment.
How do you ensure excellent customer service every time?
Train and trust your team, combined with promoting a constant gentle pressure.
If you can empower your team with pride they will care for your guests ensuring excellent customer service.
What’s the best part of the job you do?
Seeing team members progress both personally and professionally. We have had some incredible individuals join our teams as apprentices, or in part time jobs, at a young age with very little confidence.
To see them gain the life skills that you learn in the service industry, that we know will benefit them throughout their lives, is a very humbling feeling. Even more so if they start a journey in a hospitality career they hadn’t planned on, and you see them start to flourish.
What advice would you give to someone starting out as a licensee?
Do your research and have a plan, be willing to listen and adapt this plan - but remain true to the brand you want to create.
Make sure to include financial planning and create a budget. You may not get everything within your desired budget but you will have measures you can regularly check to see where you are going right and wrong.
Most unusual drink in your venue? Bestselling drink in your venue?
The Mushroom Dirty Martini was an unusual drink for us, this was created to match the first course on our tasting menu. We often create cocktails to match courses on the tasting menu rather than just pairing with wines.
The best selling individual product is a pint of Birra Moretti, but as a whole category wine is the largest part of our wet sales.
What could you not do without in your day to day life as a licensee?
Our wives, our teams and a large glass of wine.