Looking back at the wonder of outdoor dining with Greene King Partners

Running a pub is more than pulling pints and serving tables. It’s a dedication to your community, providing a comfortable environment for your customers and being an ear to listen, or a voice to debate with. At no other time in our lifetimes has this been such a challenge to provide. While previously, we have celebrated – and won awards for – our amazing pub partners who were local heroes during the lockdown, now we have an opportunity to celebrate our partners who have managed to provide an exceptional service under tight restrictions.

The doors to our pubs in England are finally open and welcoming customers inside. But let us not forget that our dedicated pubs, since the 12th April, have had the chance to open up to their communities, for outside drinking and dining. Although, sadly, some pubs did not have the luxury of any outdoor space, most of our partners spent the months leading up to April preparing for the surge in locals desperate for their favourite tipple.

What has been evident throughout the pandemic is the resourcefulness, creativity, and passion of our pub partners, supported by our amazing Business Development Managers. Rising to the challenge was never going to be an issue for them, but what was thrilling to see was just how far they could go to create a suitable space for their valued customers, reaping the rewards of that with footfall, great sales, and excellent customer feedback.

Phil Arnold, Operations Director at Greene King comments:

“Since reopening on the 12th April I have been amazed at the level of innovation from our partners to ensure that they have been able to trade effectively and at the earliest opportunity to welcome back their customers. The level of support and advice that we have offered has helped to attract new partners who have been keen to take on a new business during lockdown with the knowledge and confidence to reopen with the backing of the Pub Partners team.”

What do you do when you are told you can only serve outside?

That was the challenge for us as a company, but also for each individual pub partner as they assessed their available outdoor space and considered how best to utilise it. Some of the most surprising success stories have been those who previously had no outdoor entertainment space.

We previously spoke with Geoff Page - who runs the Guinness World Record for the smallest UK pub in Bury St Edmunds - about the return to serving. While Geoff and his business partner (who are long standing partners with Greene King) only have a space to serve just a handful of customers inside, they had no outdoor space. Working alongside their Business Development Manager, however, the team managed to lobby the local council and were successful in obtaining some outdoor entertainment space and worked hard to get barriers and seating to create an inviting space in the bustling town.

While Geoff proves the ingenuity, creativity, passion, and customer focus we have become accustomed to with all our partners, he was very much at the smaller end of the scale when it came to space. The Ship in Redmarshall invested heavily in a new, covered space for their local customers. Providing heaters, blankets and the exceptional level of service customers had come to expect from their community pub inside, but outside.

Just recently, we received photos and video footage of the exceptional effort exerted by the partners at The Swan Hotel in Bradford-On-Avon. The team have turned their car park into a restriction friendly extension of the hotel bar. By connecting a giant marquee to the side entrance of the pub, laying AstroTurf to disguise the concrete underfoot, the team at The Swan have been able to provide both drinking and dining tables for the local community. Connecting the marquee to the building allowed customers to use the facilities inside without being battered by the unpredictable British weather outside. Adding some festival bunting and speakers literally brought the pub outside.

Delivering success in unpredictable circumstances

It is a cliché we know, but the British weather is incredibly unpredictable. Typically, the end of April and all of May have both been the coldest and wettest on record. You could not make it up. How could we expect our customers to visit us in such poor conditions? A recent Greene King study of pubgoers found that 51% would be visiting their local when they opened on 12th April, and the role of our partners - with the company’s support - was to ensure they did – and they did!

Following the exceptional hard work and with the incredible preparedness of the pubs that opened in April, pubs saw an influx of returning guests. By following the government guidelines to the letter, the teams’ efforts to create an outdoor environment that is both inviting and functional seem to have paid off. Weeks before gardens and outdoor spaces even opened, bookings were flooding in and reports that some pubs were fully booked on the week of the 12th of April were becoming more widespread. Pub gardens were bustling with regulars, families, and groups of six that could finally get together and enjoy each other’s company. Finally, the great British public was able to enjoy our longest standing social tradition.

Serving success with teamwork

The pandemic has proven what we have always known. At Greene King we are one big team - we support each other to achieve our common goal. From our pub partners and Business Development Managers,  through to our supply chain, office support and management, the team have gone above and beyond to support each other, sharing resources such as tables, chairs, gazebos, and outdoor heaters as well as building WhatsApp groups to offer each other with physical, mental, and emotional support as challenges were faced, creating communities within a community. Our newest partners, who joined us during the lockdowns are now enjoying the benefits of the wonderful team around them.

Industry leading support

As restrictions are constantly being reviewed and we continue to enjoy a further dose of ‘normality’ in our communities, we would like to pay homage to our teams that were not able to reopen until May 17th and those unable to operate until all restrictions are lifted. Greene King has provided industry leading support to our partners, including rent concessions and replacements for wasted stock. This has continued throughout April, May and June as pubs begin to bring back locals and rebuild their businesses.

The doors to our beautiful pubs are open, the pub atmosphere is back, and we are so excited to visit our partners’ businesses and enjoy the return of laughter, jokes and the clinking of plates and glasses. We will now continue to follow the guidance set out in each of the devolved nations to ensure we provide equal support as restrictions lift. We cannot underestimate how much the pandemic has affected our industry, but we could not be more confident that our partners are the best in the land and their loyal communities will once again enjoy the hospitality only a Greene King Pub Partner can provide.

To anyone looking to become a pub partner, now is the time to join us and build your own pub community as we all navigate the road to normality, together as one team.