Monday 8 June 2009

The morning after

I feel like the party has lasted 2 months. In a way, that's not untrue. I've tried to remember the last time I had more than about 2 or 3 hours away from this building and I think it might be about 2 months ago. I think it was when I went to the Newcastle Beer Festival. Easter was late. The beginning of May has a bank holiday and right at the end of the very same month is not only another bank holiday but also a school half term. Thanks to the beautiful weather May was fairly busy. Then, just for good measure, there is, what seems by now to be the unstoppable Boot Beer Festival. It thankfully, is now all over for another year.

Last year we overstaffed early and had a team that more or less coped with the festival. But once the festival had finished, it started to rain. It stopped several months later. The summer trade was poor and our staffing bill too high. We lost money overall. The beer festival was significantly responsible for adding to these losses.

This year we have staffed up later, and although possibly have our staffing right, it has only just been in time and this made coping with the festival much harder. Last year was bad enough, but this year Ann and I need a complete break.

However, there is the possibility of a good summer. Room bookings seem to be up and this is essential to enable us to claw back some of our investment. But it would be nice just to look at the diary, find a day that is empty for room bookings, I think there is one next week, and close for a day. But nobody likes to visit a closed pub.

The beer festival is fun, but bloody hard work for us. It comes at just the wrong time of year for the business logistics and due to the costs of the infrastructure we put in and the drafting in of temporary staff, for the brief occasions when it gets too busy, we make no money from the event. I find it increasingly stressful, especially when I hear complaints about queuing at the bar. After cooking on Saturday night I vowed to never take part in the event again.

Later, when everything had settled down a little and I finally got a chance to talk to some regular repeat customers, I started to appreciate how much the loyal group of staunch supporters love the event. People like James et al, Jim et al, Martin and Dave and many other people who fed back appreciation. On Sunday afternoon the die-hards came back to help finish off the contents of the second bar and as a result finally dissipated my resolve to drop out of the event. Oh, and just to put the icing on the cake, Sheriff turned up, pointing out an important unique selling point - the ability to take the piss out of me.

The staff were troupers. They have worked so hard, without complaints for several weeks now. We need to work out how to give them days off. The temporary drafted in staff were essential for coping with such an extraordinary increase in trade and although the learning curve was steep for some, they coped admirably.

Some economics: The Marquee costs £400, the band this year cost £300, a total of £700. My total extra staffing expenses for the event probably add up to this order of magnitude. A general rule of thumb for events like this is to ensure that increased costs must be no more than 1/3 of the extra revenue. So, to make the weekend worth doing, financially, I have to take at least £3000 more than if I didn't do the event. This is not the case. This year we spent even more, because some could not resist the temptation to complain about queues on the Saturday night so we set up a second bar to cope, but we sold no extra beer.

Traditionally, the event is held 1 week after the end of half term. I'd like to see two weeks gap to give us a better chance to organise, regroup and perhaps have a day off. The trouble is the event will move back a week next year anyway, due to the school holidays being as late as is possible next year. It should have been moved this year. Moving it two weeks for next year might just foul up established calender patterns.

OK, so I'm not much good at remembering Kiplings advice, but perhaps I should.
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
But, most of our guests as they checked out have re-booked for next year. It is at least a success from a customer appreciation point of view. We just need to work out how to make money from it and to reduce our stress levels.

I probably have not thanked everybody enough. Apart from the staff, temporary and permanent, there is also Jeff Picthall who provided very useful trade experience. Vortigern, despite me not being able to pay them, decided they didn't want to miss out playing at the festival, so we had a band on on Friday, I'll probably get in to trouble off somebody for that. We are supposed to restrict "our" night to Saturday.


Anonymous said...

Could you not draught in volunteers from the local CAMRA membership? I'm sure someone would lend you a hand for a few pints of free / discounted beer.

I've helped out at a couple.

Unknown said...

John, nice idea, but to be honest it would be nice if they would just come to my pub a bit more often and buy beer.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

That two months between breaks habit sounds familiar.

Good to see the Sheriff is still around.

Richard said...

I just checked the Boot festival website and it reminded me of reading this last year! Sorry there's no two week gap again this year. It might not do much but I've tried to drum up a bit of support for you on my blog anyway, and I'll be along again this year. Might even say hello this time!