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Meet the Finalist: Samantha Robinson

Find out more about our six Licensee of the Year Award finalists and the fabulous venues they operate...

Samantha Robinson

Robinsons Brewery - The Queens Head Hotel - Troutbeck, Lake District

How did you get into the licensed trade?

I started as a weekend waitress, just 14 years old.  Those were the days of being paid £10 cash in hand for the whole shift… and I loved it.

By the age of 22 I had my first license and tenancy with Bass. The rest is history!


Tell us a bit about your venue and why people should visit

The Queens Head is infamous nationwide for the Lake District.  In the late 50’s Les, the landlord of the time, bought four poster beds and cabinets from Appleby Castle. The decision was made to install one of these beds into the bar and surround it with the cabinets. It’s been famous for this since.

In June 2014 the Queens Head went up in flames. This devastating fire meant we were closed for nearly 3 years, but rising like a Phoenix from the ashes, we reopened in March 2017, following a major rebuild from Robinson’s Brewery. 

We offer a fantastic warm, friendly, genuine welcome to all. Walkers, locals, tourists, dog lovers alike. We accept everyone from muddy boots to ladies that lunch. With our open fires and fantastic selection of locally sourced foods and Robinson’s Ales and drinks, we are sure to please the Lake Lovers. 


What made you enter LOYA?

After 31 years in the industry, I felt it was time to try. The Queens Head is my dream pub to run and as things have gone so well from opening, I felt confident that now was the right time.

It would be great to get recognition for my time in the trade and for the Queens Head being such an amazing business.


What has been your experience of the judging process so far?

I have enjoyed each step, it has been interesting and a little intense at times but worth all the effort. The BII has been fantastic at keeping me up to date with each stage.


What qualities do you think have got you and your pub to this final stage in LOYA?

Experience in all areas of the business, including service standards, management, recruitment, cask ale knowledge, the drinks selection, business acumen, marketing.. all of which contribute to running a successful business.

We also stand out as a team that prides itself in excellence. We genuinely work together to give the warmest, most friendly welcome and service to all our guests.

From sourcing the best local products to ensuring the standards of the whole establishment are the highest, our team really care.


What do you think winning LOYA would do for you and your business?

From a personal point of view, winning would be an amazing recognition for all my years of in the service industry. I would look forward to being an ambassador not only for the trade but for the BII as well. 

From a business point of view, it would raise our profile and greatly put us on the map for being a place of excellence.

With so much competition in the Lake District, it would be great to know we had the BII seal of excellence to shout about.


What do you see as the key challenges for today’s licensees?

There are so many. Keeping up to date with laws and legislation is a matter of constantly training and retraining.

There are also new kinds of competition to deal with. In years past competition was very much about the other pubs in the area, but now we compete with fitness clubs, smoothie bars, fast food establishments and home entertaining like never before. 

You have to stand out from the crowd in order for a new generation of guests to notice you. You have to get the offer right.


How do you motivate your team?

Firstly I make sure they know I am part of the team, not just “managing” them and I strive to lead by example.

I also allow my senior team to drive and take responsibility for actions and decisions. People feel great and motivated when given responsibility adn the opportunity to develop not only the business but themselves.

I also run incentives, some being based on sales. We are currently running a Trip Advisor incentive, where the team have to be mentioned and part of a 5 star review. The first team member to reach 5 reviews gets £50. From the start of May this was achieved in just 8 days.


What has been the most successful new idea you have introduced to your business recently?

Locally sourced products to develop our menu. We started very simply and using only suppliers the brewery recommended.  Over the past two years, myself and the head chef have gained confidence in our own knowledge and ideas, and began including and shouting about our locally sourced products.

From steaks, to roasts, cheeses to award winning chutneys,the standard of our meals has increased, thus the business has increased. 


What’s one thing you would tell your younger self starting out?

It’s going to be a very tough but extremely satisfying journey! Keep pushing forward and enjoy each moment for what it is.


How do you ensure excellent customer service every time?

Enjoying what we do.  As mentioned before, having experience and high standards myself means that the team want to give their best - knowing that I do just the same alongside them.

Each step of our service has been carefully planned and organised to be perfect every time.


What’s the best part of the job you do?

The title of the “hospitality” industry says it all. I love dealing with people, from guests to the team. I hate when office work takes me away from welcoming customers and giving great service.

It means so much when you’re thanked for doing great service or spending time with someone to develop them in their work.


What advice would you give to someone starting out as a licensee?

Give everything your best, learn and train hard. Listen to advice and choose what you action and what you don’t.


Most unusual drink in your venue?

Patterd’Ale I suppose, it’s our own Cask Ale, so the Queens Head is the only place to get it.  It started with us having two Patterdale terriers and Robinson’s asking if we wanted our own brew.

Millie my oldest dog is the face of this ale. It’s proved very popular.  


Bestselling drink in your venue?

All our ales, they are a traditional stable of any Lakeland Inn. Wines are a close 2nd, being 25% of our wet sales.


What could you not do without in your day to day life as a licensee?

My team. They are the heart of the business and without them, and their commitment our business wouldn’t be where we are today. 

As a licensee you can have all the knowledge and all the tools but without the right people using those tools and imparting that knowledge, it would be worthless.