Trading

I’m not quite sure what the natural turnover of the Swan should be. Although it is truly beautiful, I think one of my best, it is out in the middle of nowhere, in a sparsely populated patch, which is difficult to get to and circled by good competition. What I have never heard anyone say is “Oh Jerry, I’m so pleased you opened this pub, we had nowhere to go” a sentiment I have often heard elsewhere. There are a lot of good pubs to go to and not that many people.

Without giving away the actual figures, which I suppose is not wise, perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is to talk about covers. A cover is one person who is eating. You are not a cover if you call in for a few drinks, you are a cover if you call in for a few drinks and have a sandwich. I have geared the pub to do around 1500 covers a week but we are actually only doing around 1000.

I don’t want to revise my expectations just yet as this is early days. We haven’t started advertising yet and we have had our full complement of teething problems. It might well be that in a years time trade has built up to where I expected it to be. On the other hand – winter.

Menu

I’ll take more time at a later date to give you some thoughts on what sort of food I think we should be providing in a country pub. It’s tricky and subjective and the possibilities are endless. Where we pitch greatly effects who comes into the pub and how often. I think we are just about right but we have to be constantly reviewing the situation, tinkering here and there to improve things. You may have already noticed some subtle changes. Matt, the skilful Head Chef, has been trying to make the menu more country pub while keeping the really good quality that sets us apart. That means more of the dishes we all like in regular life. Portions have also grown in size making even better value for money. You’d be impressed by how much love and attention Matt and his team put into each and every dish – good food doesn’t happen by accident.

Our next major exercise, which will be in a few weeks, is a single session (perhaps two sessions) where we cook and taste every dish on the menu and make the alterations and adjustments needed to stay on top.

Physical changes to the pub

Generally I think the pub looks good and I’m pleased with it. It will, of course, look much better in two years time when the garden has grown and the pub has weathered in. It is one of the major differences between private publicans and and publicly owned pub companies. The private companies’ key priority is long term stability and protection of assets with profit necessary but not the focus, the public companies’ priority is keeping up the share price and that means attracting share buyers so they must offer growth and rising profits. Because repairs and renewals come out of revenue, hence reducing profit, the net effect of this is that small companies spend more on continuous improvement than public companies do.

Indeed I’ve made a few improvements already, changed the lighting, chopped down some bench seating and shifted some furniture around and I’m already formulating one or two further improvements. The outside is good too except for the grass and some bits of painting. Something went very wrong with the grass but I’ve got the agronomist from the farm advising us on how to put it right. It won’t be easy in the middle of summer but I’m hoping we’ll get a few weeks of rain at some time to allow us to re-sow.

The first 8 weeks

We’ve certainly had a roller coaster in our first couple of months.

We’ve to make major alterations to our IT systems, we’ve started making physical changes to the pub itself, we’ve had to start the grass seeding all over again, we’ve evolved the menu,  and we’ve finally succumbed to participating in social media. Trading is only two-thirds of what I planned for and expected.

On the plus side, I think the pub looks beautiful, it’s doing over a 1000 covers (what one diner eats) a week and it’s made a profit. It’s finally settling down and finding its feet in the village, I’m finally settling down and re-finding my feet as a publican and I think it will all be hunky dory.

David Williams is the manager and I have every faith in him making a success of it all. David, a young chap, cut his teeth in the hard knocks school of the Cock o’ Barton under the legendary John Hare and is a bright, slightly off the wall character – so he should fit in well with the rest of us weirdos. He is building an enthusiastic team to support him.

Lot’s to talk about…..

IT has been challenging – and I don’t think we’ve got to the end of this road.

When I first became a publican in the 1980’s I devised a simple manual system for logging the days trade. For booze, you added it up in your head as you served the customer and then rang the total into the till. Food orders were taken on a simple 4 part carbonless order pad. The customers order was written on the top copy which was then ripped off and sent to the kitchen through a vacuum tube, like they have in banks, which served as the kitchen order.  The carbon copies were pinned on a tab board behind the bar. Everything the customer subsequently ordered was added, by hand, to their tab and at the end it was all added up with a calculator and rung into a ring and ping till. Job done.  Although people had to be vigilant, and good at mental arithmetic, the process was understandable and easy.

At the end of the day we had takings sheets where we recorded all the totals for the day. When the first PC’s became available we converted this process to spread sheets and then later wrote a simple data base so that the data could be better interrogated.

Nowadays it would be unheard of to have such a simple system which does not capture detailed information at the point of sale. But why I wonder? It isn’t good to have a barman with their back to customers while they prod away at a flat screen. Even when they are completely familiar with the system and cheetah fast there is still something charming about a manual system. And do we really need real time information? I’ve always been very keen on good management information and always been able to get what I want on a monthly basis. Do I really need to know everything immediately? There are of course things I can do today that I couldn’t do yesterday.

I’m away at the moment and yet I can see the tills, the staff rotas, the table bookings and very soon I’ll be able to see the pub itself through the CCTV system. I’m told this is an advantage even though I can’t see how it makes me a better publican or the Swan a better pub. The problem is that it’s hard to opt out. The world moves relentlessly towards connectivity and instant information. Even if I don’t want it other people do.

Younger staff expect it, suppliers have systems that can link into our systems, the accounts software links to the tills and the staff rota system links to the payroll and so it goes on. It reminds me of the old spiritual song Den Dry Bones (toe bone connected to the foot bone, foot bone connected to the heel bone, heel bone connected to the ankle bone etc etc), everything is connected, everyone can read everyone else’s data and wants to.

Except, that is, for my dear brother Bruce who runs a few pubs in Devon. He has kept the old manual system that he took from us many years ago. He has added cloud based staff management systems and table bookings but still has the tabs and the air tube. He is happy as Larry and right now that makes me jealous so if you see a big pile of tills in the car park in a few weeks time you’ll know what’s happened.

Introduction

Why this website? I thought the good people of Marbury (and perhaps the bad ones as well) might be wondering what’s happening to the Swan so I’ve set up this little website to keep you informed. I’ll try and update it frequently as we proceed but no promises. Who’s bought the Swan? Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Jerry Brunning and I’m…