The Bridewell and Denbigh Castle Pubs
If you watched any news during lockdown, there’s a good chance you saw Fiona on your screen at some point. The owner of The Bridewell and The Denbigh Castle has become one of the key voices in the Liverpool hospitality industry, landing a primetime slot on the BBC and even being featured in Russia Today!
Having spent her entire career working in pubs and bars, Fiona is a vocal supporter of the industry and has been sharing her thoughts on the regulations which have come into place over the last few months with the press and on social media. “Of course, there’s been an impact for us all, and it was important for us to tell our story. Our second venue in the city – The Denbigh Castle – was actually due to open during lockdown. Now we’re fighting to build our business alongside the rules and restrictions which come with this new normal. The last Bank Holiday weekend was the quietest one we’ve ever experienced in the industry, and it’s clear that less people are socialising.”
Fiona was disappointed with the latest restrictions on hospitality, including the 10pm curfew introduced this week. “The new rules will more than likely drive people towards socialising in private homes, which makes it much more difficult to police and control than in public spaces. The reality is that less than 5% of Covid-19 transmission is linked to hospitality venues. We’re experts in safety and hygiene – we always have been – and looking after the safety of our customers is part of our DNA.”
The 10pm is a new challenge for the hospitality sector, not least how to ensure that all customers are off site by 10pm. “We have a lot of customers who come to us to watch football. If a match starts at 8.15pm, there’s a good chance it won’t finish before 10pm. We’ll be asking customers to drink up and leave in the middle of the event they’ve come to our pubs to enjoy!” The earlier closure also has an impact on available staff hours, something which Fiona is very aware of. “Overall we will need to cut around 70 hours from the payroll. For staff who have recently returned from furlough a reduction in hours is quite a blow.”
Exceptional customer service is something which Fiona and her team pride themselves on. Whilst many are focusing on technology solutions for customer orders, Fiona is determined to keep the human touch in her business and staff at both venues are taking customer’s orders face-to-face at their tables. “There’s a lot of interaction over a bar. We get to know our customers, and a bond forms. We want to know about their day, what they’ve been up to and how they’re doing. We can’t do that with an app.”
However, this focus on social interaction brings its own challenges in the current restrictions. “We still want our staff to interact with customers when they take their orders at the table, ask them how their day has been and have those authentic conversations with them. For some of our customers, it might be the only conversation they have that day, so it’s really important to us. When those conversations take place over a bar, the staff member can also be doing other things at the same time – pouring a pint for example. With table service the opportunity to multitask is removed and we’ve seen an increase in labour cost as a result.” Cleaning costs have also risen, with Fiona being determined to fully disinfect her premises every day to ensure customer safety.
There was one saving grace for Fiona, as both of her pubs have event spaces which she has been able to convert into seating areas to allow for social distancing. “Not being able to host events or functions was disappointing, however the extra space means that we can maintain the same number of seats that we had previously even allowing for additional distancing between groups.”
Much of Fiona’s focus has been on her staff, ensuring that they understand the impact of the new regulations and sharing regular business updates. “Our teams have worked incredibly hard over the last few months, navigating changes in rules, and even coming up with some great ideas for the business. We know that they feel safe here which is important as they pass that feeling on to our customers. We want to surround ourselves with great people and looking after our staff is critical to the future success of our business.”
Although she is positive about the future, Fiona still has concerns about how the industry will implement the new rules. “We all know that there are businesses in and around Liverpool who are not working within the guidelines and who are bending the rules. If another venue decides to open later and show the end of the match – breaking the curfew – it makes it very hard for those of us who are operating within the rules. Unfortunately, this means that compliant venues could suffer if customers choose to take their business elsewhere. It’s so important that customers understand that if a venue is breaking these rules, then your safety is not their priority.”