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by | Nov 20, 2020 | Client focus

Thyme (Oxton)

Sean is the Restaurant Manager at Thyme Oxton, and we caught up with him just days before the second lockdown was announced to understand how his business has been impacted by Covid-19. “We closed almost a year to the day that we opened. We’d built such a great momentum, with bookings in place for Mother’s Day. March was looking like it would be a record month for us… And then lockdown came.”

Thyme prides itself on being local and independent, something which is reflected in their customer service. “Our customers are mostly locals. Oxton is a small village, and we are conscious that we have a reputation to protect. It’s a very personal service here at Thyme, and we treat our customers like friends who are coming into our own home. We have some fantastic independent neighbours and we’re all on a mission to make the Wirral a destination in its own right. We try to keep our supply chain local and support other independents in the area. Our consumables come from Ware in Bootle and our linen supplier is based in Aintree. Supporting the local community is important to us, it’s easy to forget that there’s a whole supply chain behind restaurants from taxi drivers to cleaning staff who’ve also been impacted by these restrictions.”

But Sean and the team have found ways to adapt their menu to suit their customer’s changing needs. “We’ve changed our menu to offer a selection of small plates alongside our larger dishes. These new small plates offer a taste of some of the main courses we offer – for example, we have a torched mackerel on our main menu, so we’ve introduced a smaller mackerel on toast dish. We also have braised beef, coq au vin and potato gratin. We hope that customers will try something new and that these small plates make us more accessible to a different group of customers who might not have visited us before.”

Sean is clear that quality must be sustained across the whole menu. “The small plates allow us to have an offering which is less formal than our current menu, and we like that casual approach. People can come to us and share a bottle of wine and try several dishes from the menu. Offering smaller variants of our much-loved main meals also means that we can accommodate a lower price point for those who are conscious of their spend without compromising on the quality we are known for.”

The new restrictions have taken a toll on Sean and the team. “It’s been difficult to make plans, and to see what’s coming. We’ve seen a decline in average spend and the restrictions around not mixing households was a big blow for us” says Sean, who was previously the Assistant Restaurant Manager at Panoramic 34 in Liverpool. But he also knows that customer loyalty is a key focus for a restaurant which has only recently celebrated its first birthday. “Of course, the average cheque is important, but a more important measure for us is how many customers are coming through the door or ordering from us each day. If that starts to decline, if our regulars are not coming back, then we are in trouble.”

Sean admits that he’s had a few sleepless nights worrying about his team. “They’re young, and I feel like it’s my duty to look after them in a way. I know about their lives and their families, and I know that they rely on their jobs. I’ve had to balance that with giving them realistic expectations and sharing our forecast for the coming weeks as best we can. Our staff were desperate to come back to work after the original lockdown period. They missed the customers and the team. We worried that some of them might not be ready to return but the opposite was true, and they were happy to be back. We originally reopened 5 days a week, however with the current restrictions around households mixing we’re down to just 3 days for now.”

Making sure that his staff felt safe was one of the most important considerations for Sean who completed the Foursquare Covid-Safe certification prior to reopening the restaurant earlier this year. “I often ask my team “Who’s the most important person in this restaurant right now?” and most of them automatically reply with “The customer of course!” But that’s not true. The most important people in our restaurant are our staff because they will pass whatever they are feeling on to our customers. If they don’t feel happy and safe, our customers won’t truly be comfortable and that’s the most important thing to us.”

Customer satisfaction is always at the front of Sean’s mind, and even before lockdown the team were conscious of making a business which works for their local customers. “Forget about what you want. Your customers will tell you what they want, and what they need will shape your business. If something doesn’t work, you have to change it but there’s no point trying to reinvent the wheel. We started a takeaway service during the first lockdown, and we now offer delivery too. We don’t know how successful that will be but there’s always a risk in making decisions. It’s hard to know if a decision is right or wrong, but either way you have to make it. For us it’s trial and error – there are things we wish we had done sooner and things we wish we hadn’t done at all, but we look back and evaluate that, and at each stage we adapt and move forward.”

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