Real Life Stories - Maximising Your Pub Garden During The Summer Months

run a pub, beer garden, pub tenancy
Written by: Pub Partners Team
Date added: Mon, 16/07/2018 - 10:00

This summer’s warm weather has been a boom to any pub operator with a pub garden. Being able to use outside space means you can serve more customers and ensure that sunny weather doesn’t mean an empty bar.

While a few picnic tables and benches can be enough to attract customers who want to enjoy a drink or food outdoors, some pub operators are really maximising their pub gardens and reaping the rewards. In this post we share how Sam Terry and Kerry Hatt have achieved this at The Fishes on the outskirts of Oxford.

The Fishes has extensive grounds, which has allowed Sam and Kerry to do more than just run the garden as an extension of the pub and restaurant inside. However, their ideas can be scaled according to the space you have available and provide inspiration for your own pub garden.

How To Manage Food Covers In Your Pub Garden

Big or small, many pub operators face the same problems when it comes to catering for customers outside. Often the pub kitchen is too small to cope with the increase in orders, especially if the restaurant and bar inside are also busy. Factor in the logistics of getting food from the kitchen to people at the far end of the pub garden and you may find that customer service suffers.

At The Fishes this could be a significant problem as the garden is huge. However they have a solution. Sam says:

“When the garden is fully laid out, it can take up to 300 extra covers – that’s a lot more than the pub itself and could cause a logistics problem for the business. We have a small kitchen, and it couldn’t possibly cope with the extra demand. Our solution is that every Thursday to Sunday in summer, we set up an outside kitchen selling BBQ burgers, steaks and salads. By having a separate kitchen we can take pressure off the pub and also sell food that’s easier to prepare. We serve interesting salads and garnishes too – we like to think that our BBQ food is leagues above what you could create at home.

“Managing table service outside can be really difficult, you never know how many staff to book and can easily get caught out when the weather changes. A BBQ overcomes this as customers are happy to pick up their meal and help themselves to the salads, which they can revisit as many times as they like. This simple way of doing things gives us fixed costs and allows us to be flexible at the same time.”

Ensuring Customers Get Drinks Too

The pressure on bar staff is also a consideration when you’ve got a busy pub garden. While customers may be happy to make the trip to the bar for drinks, they’re not happy if they have to wait a long time to be served. Outside table service for drinks might be feasible when taking a food order, but is not something many pubs can offer throughout a service. At The Fishes a mobile outside bar takes the pressure off the bar inside the pub, and ensures customers don’t have to wait long to get served:

“We use a Silver Bullet retro caravan as our outside bar too. Not only does it look the part, but it has also been designed with our business in mind as we can move it to different parts of the garden – even loaning it to other pubs in the group! We don’t sell cask ales from this bar and we are limited to 2 fridges, but we have organised our Wi-Fi so that someone who opens a tab can order from here or inside the pub, if they want a different drink.”

Unlike a purpose built outside bar, a mobile bar is very flexible and can be put in storage during the winter months when it’s no longer needed.

Private Parties And Events

An attractive pub garden is a great location for a private party or corporate event. The Fishes’ garden sells itself, as customers can see the potential for booking the space when it’s open for normal trade. Sam and Kerry have created a feature in the centre of the site, a large tipi available to hire for free during the summer months. Sam says:

“Customers can book the space in advance for birthday parties or corporate events. We don’t charge a fee but we do specify a minimum spend for the group depending on size. If we know we have a guaranteed extra turnover of £5,000, we can plan our business in advance. Often, we specify a higher minimum cost at weekends.”

At The Fishes Sam and Kerry take a very professional approach to booking and organising private events for customers. They’ve also refined what they offer to manage expectations and ensure that they can deliver a fantastic customer service.

“We always introduce the customer to one point of contact, to coordinate their event, it reassures them that they are in the hands of a professional company, and it means we don’t forget something!

“The first few times we did this we tried to bend over backwards to do what the customer wanted, creating bespoke menus and arranging everything for them. This was time consuming and potentially expensive. Now we have 3 different menus that we know we can deliver and ask the customer to choose.”

Run A Festival In Your Pub Garden

Festivals come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re a great way of attracting customers to your pub and doing something for your local community. A festival doesn’t have to run over several days, or late into the evening. It doesn’t even have to involve live music if you want to run a food festival or other themed event. It can be free entry, donations to a charity or, as with The Fishes, a £10 entry fee. Whatever you do, it’s a great opportunity to showcase the things you do well at your pub such as great food and ambience. Kerry says:

“We try to take an unusual approach that fits with how people perceive our pub. For example, we held a butchery demonstration last year and, along with Aspall, we had an apple press where children could help make the cider.”

What To Do With Your Pub Garden In The Winter Months

While it’s really important to maximise your pub garden in the summer, when it’s not in use in the winter it can still be an asset. At The Fishes, the conservatory looks over the garden and terrace; while it may be too cold and wet to use the garden there’s still an opportunity to promote the outside space to customers who may visit again. Sam says:

“During winter, the pub is medium-sized and offers a premium à la carte menu. We have made as much as we can of the view by adding a conservatory and terrace with retractable cover. We make sure we flood light the space at night and often customers comment that they would like to come back when the weather is warmer.”

It is therefore important that even when summer is over you continue to maintain your pub garden so that customers can enjoy the view from inside the pub, and also make a mental note to return during the summer months. Sam says:

“There’s nothing worse than a garden full of sad, weather-beaten furniture that has been surviving through the winter. Our garden is visible to everybody, so this is all about the right staging for the season. As the weather starts to get warmer we bring our furniture out from storage and gradually introduce it, starting with the space nearest the terrace first until summer is in full swing.”

It’s not too late to invest some time and resources in your pub garden to make the most of this summer. It’s also a good time to plan for next year and explore how you can make your outside spaces work better and bring more revenue into your business. Why not take some inspiration from what Sam and Kerry have been doing at The Fishes and tailor it for your pub?

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