The Fishes, North Hinksey Village, Oxford

Written by: Sarah Milward
Date added: Fri, 08/06/2018 - 12:30

How to make events work for you

With nearly 3 acres of outside space backing onto a river that floods in winter, the Fishes near Oxford, needs to make the most of its gardens during the summer. Sam Terry, General Manager and Kerry Hatt, Assistant Manager show us how they create successful (and profitable) events.

SAM trained as a chef working with household names such as Jamie’s and Byron before moving to The Fishes which is leased from Greene King by Peach Pubs. The business is in an idyllic village location in the outskirts of Oxford and is set in huge grounds leading to a winding river.

‘During winter, the pub is medium-sized and offers a premium à la carte menu,’ says Sam, ‘we have made as much as we can of the view by adding a conservatory and terrace with retractable cover, but the river sometimes floods and as it’s on a different level, so we don’t use the garden much when it’s cold. 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.’

SETTING THE STAGE

‘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.’

‘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.’

A UNIQUE SPACE

‘If you want to create an unusual experience, you need to do something different, so the centre of our garden features a huge tipi in the summer. This is a big talking point and transforms the space from into something really special.’

‘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 wifi so that someone who opens a tab can order from here or inside the pub, if they want a different drink.’

RIGHT FOR EVENINGS

‘For us, it’s about doing something simple that isn’t what you’d expect and transforms the space into something magical. The best way to achieve atmosphere is through lighting, so we make sure that the garden is festooned with lights. Some of the events and parties we run extend into the evening and customers appreciate the efforts we go to make them comfortable. There’s always a box of blankets on hand and we use patio heaters on the terrace, but to make things really atmospheric, we have an open fire pit in the tipi.’

CUSTOMER BOOKINGS

‘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.’

‘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. We have music restrictions on our licence so we can create or use a customers’ play list.’

RUNNING OUR OWN EVENTS

‘Every year we run our own event too – this has become known locally as ‘Fishfest.’ It has taken us a few years to get this right, but the formula now works for us and people pay £10 for a ticket so we must be doing it right. We set the date in the diary 6 months ahead so we know not to accept private bookings. We tried featuring specialist food from local suppliers, but most were smaller companies and only prepared to let customers try a sample before encouraging them to buy. We had to supplement this with our own food and realised that we were competing with ourselves.’

‘What seems to work for us is partnering up with drinks suppliers or food suppliers to the business, they usually have a bigger budget and a team that is used to events. 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.’

‘In winter, we remove the tipi and replace it with a huge bonfire for Guy Fawkes’ Night. This is big celebration for us and we are one of the few places that can provide great food as well as a good atmosphere. We keep the formula the same and serve BBQ food and a limited outside bar – this works well for customers and for our business.’

MARKETING OUR EVENTS

‘Our most effective marketing is by word of mouth and we think of Facebook as an extension of this. Peach Pubs has an informal policy that only around 30% of our posts should be pre-planned, everything else should be spontaneous or it feels forced. Our followers appreciate the fact that posts are genuine, so when we do something promotional, it is much better received. We only have around 3,000 followers but our recent competition to guess the number of Easter eggs in a jar was shared with over 60,000 people!’