Business Development Manager, Dave Davies, only joined Metropolitan Pub Company weeks before Covid-19 hit, but helped create new opportunities and assisted pubs to achieve their highest ever earnings on reopening.
I’ve been working in hospitality ever since I got a job collecting glasses in a club at age 16, and I’ve never stopped, so I was gutted when I was furloughed in March 2020.
I’d only joined Metropolitan Pub Company as a business development manager a few months before, and was keen to get working for our London pubs.
Here at Metro, we’re part of Greene King, but separate. We use the same systems for things like training and health and safety, but we run alongside the main business. For example, we have our own supply chain and we’re small, so can be agile. During lockdown one I was brought out of furlough to work with a team including our head of food development, Ray Corrie, to look at the feasibility of running a takeaway food service. I was of the opinion that it absolutely could be done, and in a few days we had a plan in place.
We realised we could develop the takeaway idea, using closed pubs as pop-up stores selling groceries that were in short supply. We turned 10 pubs into shops in two weeks and it was brilliantly succesful – people were popping in for pastries for lunch and a pint to take away, too. My role was a strategic one: I number crunched, analysed and tweaked and it went so well that we extended the idea to other pubs and made £1 million in four weeks. I never imagined when I joined Metro that within a few months I’d be an area manager for 13 shops!
I was brought out of furlough again in March 2021 when it was announced that we’d be able to open up pubs for outdoor service in April. As a team, we looked at how we could do this safely with Covid restrictions in place. We’d already invested in pub gardens during lockdown – in fact, seven out of 20 of the pubs that were able to open had enjoyed beautiful outdoor makeovers. For example, the Duke of Sussex in Chiswick has a modern Spanish menu so we created a lush Spanish-themed garden to complement the food. I had some input into the look and feel and was just blown away by how amazing it looked when it opened.
Wherever a pub was unable to open due to lack of suitable outside space, we looked at creative ways to make it happen. Not everyone was out of furlough, so we mixed our areas up a bit and I got in my car and travelled to pubs to ask, what do we need to do to get these gardens operational? Sometimes this meant literally shifting plant pots out of the way to fit more tables in to increase the number of covers. Other times it was a case of coming up with cool, quirky fixes, like extra planting, to create a better pub atmosphere.
As a team we came up with some great ideas. For example, the riverside location of The City Barge in Chiswick means the pub is partially submerged at high tide, taking away some of the outside seating at the front, so we solved this by putting up a marquee out the back. At the Tulse Hill Hotel we created a garden in the car park with a marquee, furniture from closed pubs, fairy lights and plants, and doubled the capacity. At The Crabtree in Fulham we set up an outdoor bar within the grounds, which attracted passers-by. We also got table licences on pavements where we’ve never had them before, such as The Mitre in Holland Park, and at The Ram in Kingston we took over a large area of a public square. We had various hurdles to overcome along the way, such as national shortages of marquees, barbecues and gas bottles due to soaring demand. Not a problem for our team: we simply got in our cars and went hunting. We found gas bottles in camping shops, for example.
Once we’d done all we could with the space we had, we focused on maximising sales. I set up a bit of fun, goodnatured rivalry between myself and another area manager on our team WhatsApp group. There was a lot of banter and geeing the teams on and I told them that they’re all fantastic, but Team Dave was going to smash it and beat the other team’s sales figures when we reopened. It was all done in a tongue-in-cheek way, but I knew what I was doing; I wanted to instil that sense of competition to motivate everyone.
When 12 April came, I was checking in with pubs at 4pm and 9pm and I couldn’t believe the numbers. To be fair I had the biggest and busiest sites, but in that first week of reopening, five of our pubs enjoyed their highest ever sales. By the end of April, we were consistently outperforming industry averages: one pub took £97.1k in a week. I honestly couldn’t believe it. One of Greene King’s values is the freedom to succeed: I’d say that the Metro team certainly embodied that sentiment during the pandemic. And enjoyed the rewards.