Hideout, Taunton

Written by: Sarah Milward
Date added: Fri, 24/03/2017 - 16:19

Bringing a touch of Las Vegas to Taunton

‘I’m probably unusual as I didn’t work in the industry before I took on the Hideout in Taunton... Years ago, I was a pastry chef, but my last business was as an estate agent and I hadn’t had any direct experience of running a pub myself. But I do know what it’s like being a customer and decided that the standard approach to running pubs in this country is getting a bit boring.
Customers are starting to seek out the different, the unusual, an experience rather than a formula.’

‘After my previous business, I decided to take an extended career break in Las Vegas where I gambled, got some tattoos and met my wife – Goodie. Spending time in the city, rather than just visiting as a tourist, meant that I could learn how things worked and we soon realised that the American approach to customer service was missing in the UK. Goodie is an integral part of the business and ensures that we maintain the right service standards – of course it helps that she’s American too!’

‘When I first found the pub, I knew what needed to be done. A top-to-bottom refit meant that I could influence how the pub looked. Most of the ideas in here are mine and it would be tempting to say that the Greene King (then Spirit) interior design company just followed my instructions, but that’s not how it happened. I’m flexible and always looking for new ideas – if the designers suggested something that worked, I went with it. The result is the best of both.’

‘For example, we have an in-house space that can be used as a mini-cinema with roll-down screen. Using our space like this makes it easy to transform the pub with minimal effort and make a different experience for each visit.’

Keeping things flexible

‘I know exactly where we fit in the town. We’re not fine dining but we are one step above the other pubs in the area. People visit us because they want something special, but also something affordable. Our food is sourced locally, which is what you’d expect, but we use the ingredients for American dishes like Corned Beef Hash and Jambalaya that aren’t available anywhere else in Taunton.’

‘I change the menu regularly – not just twice a year. Dishes are sometimes developed by me and sometimes by my team. Being flexible means we can take advantage of opportunities to boost profit. Our Scotch eggs were proving really popular and I realised that if I added chips, I could create a whole meal with minimal incremental costs and much larger margins.’

‘We don’t have a lot of outside space, so getting the pub ready for Summer is easy. There’s a small patio running down one side of the building that we put out high quality seating and unbranded umbrellas – these can be seen from a distance across the square and flag that we’re open to everybody. Next to the paved area is a large green space that belongs to the council – last Summer we hired it for music festivals. It’s a brilliant way to extend our trading space and costs us a fraction of the price of upkeeping a large beer garden.’

How to be family friendly

‘In the UK, we think that families want chunky slides, ball pits and bright coloured paintings all over the wall... That’s a peculiarly British thing. Go into a ‘family-friendly’ pub in the UK and you’ll find parents sitting in the middle of screaming kids, trying hard to enjoy their meal and all the time wishing they could be somewhere else. In the USA, the thinking is different. Everybody deserves a great experience.’

‘When a family comes into our pub, we give them 3 things:

  1. Free, healthy, juice drinks. The kids love them and parents know we are looking after the children.
     
  2. Colouring pencils and a dinosaur menu. We always frame the best picture of the week and keep it on the bar.
     
  3. A voucher for the sweets bar – we show the children – then give it to mum or dad saying, they can give it to them only when they have earned it – so our children are beautifully behaved and eat every part of their meals!
     
  4. Having an in-house cinema is also brilliant for entertaining the children. We have back-to-back Tom & Jerry or longer feature films playing to keep them interested.

My next pub

‘I have been approached to run another pub in the town. But it wouldn’t work. I think a town can only support one pub like this – why should I compete with myself? To make money, I would have to invent something new, which doesn’t seem like good business sense to me. Better to open in another town and re-create The Hideout where it won’t impact on Taunton.’