Pub grub in a pandemic: The Chequers Inn’s community carvery success23 June 2020
Husband and wife team Tim and Vanessa Mulholland are no strangers to the hospitality industry. With Tim’s experience as a chef and Vanessa’s in front of house roles, they took the plunge and opened their own pub and restaurant together, in the lovely Dorset village of Lytchett Matravers.
However, when COVID-19 struck and Boris Johnson announced that pub doors had to shut, Tim and Vanessa were given the opportunity to rethink their role in the wider community. This enabled them to cater to new audiences, give back to key workers, and serve more than pints and bar snacks.
We interviewed them last week, to find out how they achieved all of this and their hopes for the future.
Catering to a wider audience
“We had a very good customer base to start with, but now we’ve started offering new services such as takeaway meals and fruit boxes, we’ve picked up a lot of new customers.
A lot of people in the village wouldn’t have spent money with us before Coronavirus, because a lot of the residents are older and wouldn’t necessarily go to pubs. Now we offer them something unique and necessary, which they can’t always get from elsewhere.”
“As our restaurant had to close, we started off by doing takeaway meals and that is doing well. We can also offer deliveries for those to people in the village who are isolating, which is really invaluable for them.”
Making new menus
“There are added VAT implications if you sell hot food so we had to adapt our menu, and then communicate our new offerings to the local residents. To achieve this, we created and distributed customised flyers around our village which helped the uptake a lot.
When coming up with a new menu, we had to consider how easy dishes were to make portable. We could only prepare meals that were easy to place in boxes for people to carry back home to pop in the oven or microwave.”
“We do carvery on a Sunday, which is really popular. We do between 80-100 takeaway carvery meals. On a typical, non-pandemic Sunday we would have been open 12-6pm and normally served around 200 people. Now we do half of that and we’re only open two hours!”
Feeding the front line
“There’s a Facebook group, just for villagers and everyone’s been bending over backwards to help each other out. Part of our original plan was to do a suspended meal option, so when people were buying their own meal they could buy another meal for someone else who might be in need.
Then the Coronavirus Support Group was set up and identified the people we could give the free meals to. The amount we ended up giving away was massive, people were so generous.
We started off with providing meals for all the NHS staff in the village. We gave away mostly carvaries with puddings. The community was also really grateful for our supermarket workers, pharmacists and our local GP surgery, so we ended up providing meals for them too, as a thank you from us all!
I’m hoping that that community spirit and generosity will last. I think it will, because everybody who’s been involved has commented on how amazing this village has been.”
A lot of people at the beginning wanted to pay over the phone so it was a very quick transaction, just pick up the boxes and go.
When the contactless card limit went up to £45 it made it easier because the fruit boxes were £15 and the veg boxes were £16, so it was just over the amount!”
Finding positives from a global pandemic
“Businesswise, Coronavirus has made us assess our quality of life. We’d been working hard and long hours. In this time, we’ve still been busy but we’ve not been working every night or coming in first thing in the morning. We haven’t spent seven days a week here. It’s more whether we can make it easier for ourselves.
Having supported the village, we think we will get back that support from people coming into the pub, and we will go back to being as busy as we were. We’re not expecting normal trading straight away, but certainly by the end of the year we’d be able to get a lot more people in the pub than two metres will allow.”
The Chequers Inn aren’t the only Paymentsense customers to have built a successful transformation during lockdown. Find out how Rushlake Green Village Stores helped deliver to the elderly with mobile card machines.