In 2017 Clive Price became a finalist for the BII’s Licensee of the Year Award (LOYA) as the Managing Director of charming Redhill pub, the Bletchingly Arms. Having relished the experience, Clive has entered LOYA again for 2018 – but this time representing old-world pub and mead hall, The Crown and Cushion in Minley.
This quaint Surrey gastropub and favored venue for local celebrations has recently had a sizeable extension added to the dining area and seen a flourish in trade. Given the rigorous 4 month judging process involved with LOYA, and the challenge of managing several busy pubs, we were eager to catch up with Clive and hear how he’s preparing for the coming months.
BII: How did the pub and you benefit from entering LOYA last year?
It’s a really useful exercise to review everything you do and certainly sharpens the team up and gives everyone that extra sort of boost to make sure they’re looking after their bit of responsibility – whether that’s the training, the auditing, or cleaning.
I think the guys from the Bletchingly Arms got a real boost from it last year and that was nice for them.
These pubs and businesses are absolutely about all the people in them everyone’s got to do their job well for it to be good from kitchen porters to the waiter to the managers to directors – everyone’s got to chip in don’t they? So (LOYA) is a nice thing in the long run really.
BII: What was the most unexpected part of the competition?
I was amazed at how involved, and how in depth it is - in a good way.
Once I made it to the final at Sky HQ, that day was brilliant. You had to go and do three panel interviews - the number of people involved! There was top industry people all gathered there for the day, so that was amazing.
BII: This year you’ve entered LOYA with a different pub, The Crown and Cushion, tell us about this decision.
It’s all very exciting at Crown and Cushion we’ve done the extension and doubled the covers in pub bit - it really has transformed that.
I think this year The Crown and Cushion is so lovely anyway with the refurb and the new thrust of the business it just seemed like the place really. It’s looking great, buzzing, and I’m just really proud of it.
BII: Brilliant to hear that the refurb has given a new lease of life to The Crown and Cushion - what advice would you give to other publicans considering renovating?
People know where it makes sense to extend or to add on… For us it was just obvious, with 55 covers it was just tiny.
Obviously be well planned with it, make sure that everything’s costed and worked out - that you’re using someone reputable.
Things can go wrong with building can’t they and re-furbishing, we’ve done quite a few refurbishments with the company we use so they’re kind of tried and tested.
BII: How long have you been a member of the BII? Why did you join?
Over 10 years I think actually. Really because of course it’s the premier thing to be associated with in this industry.
I’ve used the legal and HR helplines in the past they were very useful.
I think it’s particularly useful when you’ve got a sort of tricky situation and you think, ‘hmm I’m fairly sure that’s what I should be doing’ and to have some sort of clarification (from the BII) gives you a bit of confidence to go – ‘yep okay good.’
BII: Tell us how you started working in the industry
I’ve always done it, so my first job I was a kitchen porter at an amusement park on £1.88 an hour! Then after a couple of weeks a chef left and they asked me ‘do you want to be a chef?’ Yes please!
It was a nice progression – I was earning 5 pounds an hour by the end of the season! So I thought I was a millionaire.
I then eventually moved on and did a degree in catering management and economics at Oxford Brookes University. It was good, and while I was there sort of worked my way through and worked at hotels, and things, at my business now I can honestly say I’ve done every job – back of house, manager, pot wash, I’ve done it all.
That’s one of the things I really love about hospitality, people can rise up through the ranks pretty quickly if they show the right kind of attitude and aptitude… you can move yourself on and really sort of build yourself and your skills quite quickly.
BII: What’s the biggest challenge when it comes to running more than one pub?
You need a policy for everything, checks on everything, make sure what you think’s happening is still happening – and is it set up to succeed really. And that’s another thing as an industry you never really feel on top as you’re only as good as your last service and your next customers.
Really it’s that consistency of delivery. The bigger you get the more you have to rely on other people so you have to develop really good food systems and make sure that consistency is key.
You know it’s no good if someone comes one day and it’s brilliant, but the next week it’s rubbish, then good again, and what people want is good all the time - quite rightly.
People moan about things like trip advisor but we love it, it keeps you sharp, you very quickly know if you’ve not been good enough and that does give you the drive to keep trying being better and being consistent.
Over 300 years old, and hiding an 18th century smugglers tunnel, The Black Buoy pub has long been an interesting fixture in the riverside town of Wivenhoe. In recent times, the traditional Essex inn was faced with the threat of closure, but in 2013 was rescued by a group of residents who banded together to refurbish and re-launch the historical establishment as a free house.
One member of the group, Calum Macaskill, explains that while the team may have had all they needed by way of community spirit and enthusiasm – a little extra guidance and support was needed when it came to the logistics of running a pub;
“We opened the pub in 2013, and the first reason we got involved in the BII was because we didn’t know anything about anything. We were very aware of the depth of our ignorance.”
The employee advice available to BII members was a major incentive for Calum and the team at The Black Buoy to join the BII; “I was looking into employee rights and things like that in regards to casual staff and found the HR service helpline useful.”
With no question too big or too small, the BII offer an unlimited 24/7 HR, legal, licensing, ratings and insurance helplines run by industry experts. They also provide a standard contract of employment builder with the most up to date employment policies, leaving space for you to simply fill-in-the-gaps.
These tools only skim the surface of how members like Calum have benefitted from the BII, with advice, events and awards, mentoring, discounted products/services and more available all year round – to both those experienced and new in the trade.
“We joined the BII when we started the project in Nov 2013 and have sort their advice ever since. Particularly useful was the insurance service which got us a great quote for public liability.”
“Whenever I’m a bit stumped I normally use the BII as the first port of call, ring up or drop an email to find out about this, that and the next… Signposting to people that can help is exactly what the BII do for us.”
BII member Kathryn Barnes recently got in touch with our helpline, and was able to save a significant amount thanks to the advice provided by our ratings Advisors, Harris & Lamb.
I couldn’t be more pleased actually, I was particularly impressed with how they handled my case and I got a very good result.
I phoned the BII and said look, ‘I’m in a position where I’ve had a hike in business rates, can you put me in touch (with a with ratings advisor)?’ Because you get a lot of cold calls, from people who reckon they can help you and you think ‘do you know what? I don’t know anything about you.’
So I thought, I’ll go through the BII because they‘re obviously going to put me through to someone reputable. They gave me that contact at Harris & Lamb, and I had to send him last 4 years figures etc, but he was very helpful and I think it only took a couple of months – I’m very pleased.
Running a traditional 1950s style pub in a high-end North London suburb, with the surprising addition of a Thai restaurant attached, would be an interesting challenge for any first time publican – let alone a 26 year old woman with work experience in high street cafe chains. We caught up with new BII member Jessica Thurley at her pub The John Baird in Muswell Hill, to discuss how she found her calling in the industry.
BII: How did you feel about taking on such a unique venue? Did you know much about the place?
‘When I first heard about it to be honest I was really nervous as we’re such a funny mixture… we’re on the premium end of a pub, we’re decorated kind of 50s hipster, but we show the sports, and we’re in Muswell Hill, and we have a Thai restaurant! I was like ‘how does this work?’ But actually when you’re here, it does work really well.’
‘It ends up being really nice, because [customers] come get their drinks, pick up a couple of menus, go sit down, and then they get table service Thai food, while they’re just in the pub! And I think because the Thai has such a good name for itself, the food does really well.’
‘And the other way round, you get people that come in just to have dinner and then end up staying for drinks and end up getting sucked into the pub.’
BII: What’s been the biggest challenge or unexpected part of being a publican?
‘This is the first time I haven’t worked for a corporation... I’ve worked in like coffee shops and things, for massive chains… Everything is told how you’re going to do it. Because there’s no rules telling you how to do anything [as a publican here], you end up doing everything and taking on a lot on yourself that you probably shouldn’t do. Or you spend time worrying about things that you shouldn’t be worrying about.’
‘Now I’ve been here six months things are now set to my rhythm and now they’re going like clockwork, but I can’t remove myself from it because there’s no shift pattern for me…
That’s what I found hardest. Being the assistant manager [at a pub previously], you could clock off - but being a manager you just don’t, you can’t. Especially when you live in! So even if I’m off, I can hear the crowd downstairs and I’m like ‘oohh I’ll go down a bit earlier.’
BII: What was it that attracted you to working in pubs?
‘I guess what actually kept me with pubs…Was the like family nature of it.’
‘When I was 18 and I first went into pub work, I worked in a small pub, and the same two people are running it and the same bar staff still come in to have a drink - and you don’t get that in other industries. When you’re working somewhere small like that, where everyone knows your name… you at least know there’s going to be a couple of regulars that know you, and it’s so nice.’
BII: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your job?
‘I think the thing that’s really nice is when you come into a pub that was perhaps trailing in its clientele a little bit, and you get everybody coming back in. You are kind of like this weird minor celebrity, in that people want to find out who you are coz you’re ‘the gov.’
‘I think that there’s an element of being a girl that catches people off guard and then they’re interested in to why when you’re in your 20s are you doing this and they expect you to be a boy or 40 plus.’
‘It’s when you get somebody who’s like ‘oh I used to come to this pub all the time, and I didn’t really like it that much so we stopped coming, we found somewhere else to drink’ - and then when they come back, you feel like you’ve won! You’ve won that little fight.’
BII: What attracted you to becoming a member of the BII?
‘Well there’s only two active pubs in this little group that we’re in, so while we have someone above us, actually the two of us who are running the pubs are kind of autonomous and we have to do a lot of it on our own. And the big boss, he does know quite a lot but it’s just really nice having that cover… I was the assistant manager in [a] pub before, and the landlord there, he basically used it for everything. It seemed like everything was just ran through or just checked by the BII. So it just felt like that’s something I needed to have too.’
BII: Do you have any advice for someone going into pub management?
‘…People want to be able to chat to you and that’s what makes a pub a pub. ‘
‘I think I guess my advice is like you should do it because you have a passion for the industry.
I started teaching myself how beer is brewed, and like all the little nuances of things and tried to teach myself everything because I loved this environment so much you want to carry it well.
So you do kind of just have to live and breathe it a little bit. Like if people enjoy it and think they wanna do it I think you do just kind of have to dive in with both hands… ask the cellar men what’s going on and how do they do every little thing and then without even realising you know how to – you can run a pub. I just got dumped in here like all of a sudden I was running a pub, but because you’ve taken all the time before to know everything, you can actually, you can do all of it yourself. You don’t need that guy in his 50s who says he’s running the pub to do it because you’ve taken the time to learn every aspect.
South West BII member Paul Berry runs the Devon gastro pub, The Swan, which has recently won Tourism Pub of The Year at the Devon Tourism Awards and been listed in the “Estrella Damm” Top 50 Gastropub Awards. With their sights set on taking a third accolade in the upcoming South West Tourism Excellence Awards, and being recognised as a Fellow BII member after working more than 10 years in the trade, Paul took some time to chat to us about The Swan’s success and his experiences in the industry.
BII: Your pub The Swan has gone from strength to strength this year, what do you think has made it stand out in these recent competitions?
I think that the top of the bottom is that me and [partner] Donna are very hands on. We’re honest about what we do, and there’s no sort of pretentiousness with us or anything like that...and obviously we’re into our own province of food where possible.
BII: What advice would you give to other licensees looking to enter their pub into competitions?
I think if you’re going to do a tourism award you have to read the application form very carefully …and read in between the lines and give as much information about your business as you can.
[For example] when it comes to ‘sustainability’ [in award entry requirements] it doesn’t mean like eco light bulbs, sustainability’s a long subject – it goes from activities you might do in the village, to what paint you might have on the walls, what clubs you support etcetera - so the list is quite endless when you start looking.
BII: How can these kind of competitions and awards benefit a pub?
Initially you want to get them out to come visit you. And the benefit of entering a tourism award is somebody comes out to judge you and they make observations about your business and you get a feedback form and that is quite positive for you – whether it’s negative on the report, but it’s positive for your business.
BII: How did you get into the industry and running pubs?
I started as and am still a chef, I did it from the moment I left school. I’ve always been in the trade, but I got into pubs when I was about 30… I got involved in a partnership with my parents, we got a pub together down in Buckinghamshire. Then I left there, met my wife, and she decided we should get a pub [together]…
BII: What’s the best thing about working in the Swan?
No day’s ever the same, even though they sometimes feel like it… no day with your customers is ever the same.
BII: Why did you join BII? Have you used any services?
Well obviously it’s good for the trade. And I did have an opportunity about 5 years ago when I used the BII to get some information I needed, I was in a really sticky situation…They did give me some sound advice.
We had two pubs at the time and we were looking at closing one, and we had issues with the landlord etcetera so we needed to find out where we stood on the legality, but yeah we came out of that situation and were here today… from having a successful business to (it) nearly dying, to building something successful again which is a lot more stable.