Real Life Stories: Running A Profitable Pub Business

run a pub, trading space
Written by: Pub Partners Team
Date added: Mon, 03/07/2017 - 10:00

In 2016 the lease of Greene King pub The Fox Inn, near Farnham in Surrey, was taken over by a family business called Marshall Eaton. The Fox is the first of a planned chain of pubs for this new division of the company, and in just a few months has become a popular destination pub in the local area.

In this post we talk to Matt Eaton and Rob Marshall, who are responsible for the day-to-day running of the pub, about running a profitable pub business. They, and other members of this family firm, are bringing their experience of working in retail, hospitality, and property development, to create a scalable business model they can roll out across other pubs.

While you may not have a large support team behind you, or other family members involved in your pub, the insights they share here could help you run a successful and profitable pub.

Running A Profitable Business: Trading Space

When the Marshall Eaton team took over the Fox, the first thing they did was increase the amount of trading space available. Originally upstairs provided accommodation for the landlord or pub manager, this was converted into a large fine-dining room, a snug (called the Fox’s Den) and private dining room.

Rob says, “The thing you’ve got now with pubs is that every bit of trading space, especially in venues like this, is premium. It makes sense not to have accommodation. Even though many pub manager jobs come with accommodation, we would rather pay the pub manager more, a bigger salary, and have more trading space.”

Matt adds, “You have to treat it as a proper retail business. No one lives here, it’s a lock up and go.”

Downstairs too the layout has been reconfigured and refurbished to maximise the opportunities for trade. With a lounge, bar, dining areas and outside terrace, the new interior provides plenty of seating for customers whether they want a drink or a meal. This refurbishment represented the first phase of the redevelopment, the team got the keys to the pub in October 2016 and opened two months later in December for the Christmas period.

However, they haven’t finished yet! There are further opportunities to extend the trading space and work is underway. Currently a new kitchen is being built which will be joined to the pub with a glass atrium. The existing kitchen will then become more downstairs trading space, and be incorporated into the new layout.

Also under development is the pub garden. The team are reclaiming some areas of the garden that haven’t been used for years, and creating a tiered garden with different areas for customers.

Rob explains, “the garden is tiered and the top level will have a row of cabanas with heating and lighting for families and groups, the bottom area will be the children’s play area and then there will be tables with umbrellas.

“The kitchen we have at the moment can’t do the amount of covers we’ll need when the garden is opened. So we’re adding a new kitchen outside, and the old one will become more trading space inside the pub.”

Customer Service and Managing Expectations

The Marshall Eaton philosophy explains why the business is growing day-by-day. They are focused on delivering a great experience for their customers so they come back for more, tell their friends and build the reputation of the pub.

Matt says, “We saw the opportunity in this pub. We want to keep it a village pub; we want it to be a pub for everybody. So you want to come and have a pint and a packet of crisps, bring your dog in, watch some football and have a chat amongst friends, or listen to a bit of music. Or if you want to come in and have a casual lunch, we have the bar and lounge area. Or you can come for fine dining upstairs or have a private dining experience. We cater for everybody.”

One of the advantages the family have is that they all live in the area, the Fox is their local pub. Therefore they have a really good understanding of what other residents want, and how they can cater for their needs.

As Matt says, one of the reasons that Simon Marshall (fellow Director in the business) wanted to take on the pub was that “he wanted somewhere to take his kids after school to get food between 3 and 5 o’clock. We want to be the only pub in the area where you can get food all day.”

The pubs clientele includes locals - many of whom used the pub many years before and have started to come back; builders and tradespeople coming to the pub for breakfast; parents using the pub car park to drop their children at school and then stopping for coffee and pastries; local groups and clubs; and people looking for a destination pub at the weekend or evening.

“We’ve even had a couple come down from London for our Valentine’s meal!” says Matt.

Training and Staff

The team at the Fox have many years of experience recruiting, managing and training staff. As such they have very clear guidelines on how they run the business and what they expect from staff.

Rob explains, “There are a set of parameters we work in, whether it be on the food side, the wet side, recruitment, marketing, there are certain areas we work within which we use almost like a brand – including the rest of the group. Because of that everyone knows what they’re doing, there are no grey areas.

“We did keep some of the old staff, we’ve retrained them to get them to understand our way of thinking and running the business. Some of them have fallen by the wayside as they didn’t want to keep to our standards, others have done well and been promoted.”

Currently Matt and Rob, two assistant managers, and the company’s head office support, run the Fox. However the team is growing and includes a supervisor, an executive chef and two other chefs, a kitchen porter, bar and waiting staff, and a part time cellar manager.

Rob says, “When we open the garden in the summer we will need more staff. We do a lot of our recruitment based on the business, so part time staff are very important to us. We tailor our rotas to meet our business demands, which means having four hour shifts.”

The executive team are also meticulous in their planning and training as Rob explains, “When we have an idea for the pub, we discuss it and put things in place including proper training. Only after the training do we launch the idea. It’s all about planning, this way you’re not playing catch up or ironing out bugs later.

“So for our wine tasting evening Matt, myself and the two assistant mangers had some wine training on the new wines, and then the assistant managers had two members of staff to train and that’s how we roll the training out. We feel that’s the best way of driving the message forward.

“Our staff have prompt cards with bullet points, they know there are certain steps that they need to do. We keep on top of it to maintain standards, keep everyone on the ball all the time.”

Matt adds, “we also lead by example, Rob and I are here all the time showing them how to do it. We’re not sat in an office.”

“We’re also doing feedback cards because we need to listen to our customers; when there’s praise share it with everyone and when we’re not doing so well share that and make sure it doesn’t happen again” says Rob.

Maximising the trading space, understanding what your customers want, and having the systems, processes and staff in place to deliver a great product / pub experience is essential to run a successful pub. The team at the Fox are applying their experience in retail and business acumen to the pub and seeing great results from it.

Further to our conversation with Matt Eaton about the Fox Inn and plans for the future, the company directors have now brought in Andrew Cordwell to head up Marshall Eaton Leisure and help establish a chain of pubs based on their flagship model.

Andrew has extensive experience in the F&B industry working with well known brands such as Pitcher and Piano, Marstons Thompson & Evershed, John Lewis & Waitrose and Toosies. Rob Marshall continues to drive the development of the pub business model at the Fox, with the support of two assistant managers. 

You don’t have to have to have a company behind you, or have run a business before, to run a profitable pub. But as you can see from the insights shared in this post, to make your pub a success it must be run as a proper business.