Friday, 22 May 2015

The waiting's almost over!

Liz meets Michael Ball
So before I tell you about our trip to London for the last round of judging, I simply must tell you about meeting Michael Ball before his Plymouth concert.

As I told you last time I had treated myself to a 'Meet & Greet' package. I thought I'd be one of dozens, but there were only 5 of us! An eclectic bunch and 1 very bizarre young lady who had not purchased the package but tried to push herself in!! I don't think so dearie!!!!

So the big moment came and all 5 of us were ushered into the auditorium of Plymouth Pavillions where we sat slightly hushed and occasional teenager giggles (disconcerting when the combined age was close to under 400!!)

I have to say that as he approached where we were sitting I had what can only be classed as one of those moments that feels totally surreal.  Here was the man who I had swooned over in Les Miserables, and who's Radio 2 show has me smitten.  Do you know what?? He was as lovely as you would expect him to be.............. full of twinkly eyes, crinkley smile and a filthy laugh.  One of the ladies meeting him had lost her Husband not too long ago and she was keen to tell him how important his music was and he was just charming.

My photo opportunity was amazing and I came over momentarily shy! (I said momentarily!!) within seconds I was inviting him to the Vic for supper (never one to miss a chance) and we talked like we'd known each other for years!! The lady sat next to me in the other photo was 84 (I think) a Plymothian and she was swaying and tapping along with the best of them.

But you know, it's a bit like the Michael Buble concert I went to - I do love these singers (and when Michael Ball sang Empty Chairs from Les Mis I was in bits) some of the fans are a bit full on...........some of them had been to 5 or 6 concerts - they must spend a fortune!!!

Anyway, that put me in good spirits for our London trip for the last round of judging for the BII Licensee of the Year.  A very pleasant night before the event at Quaglinos with very good friends took my mind off it a treat and the Amba Charing Cross Hotel was quite delightful so this time round I was far more relaxed about it all.

The other finalists were lovely and it's always interesting how quick you form a camaraderie with people and share your experiences of the process. Last years winner Lee Price had read my blog (he was a judge this time) and presented me with a giant safety pin at breakfast which had me in fits of giggles!! (go back and read it - you'll see why).  Anyway, no wardrobe malfunction and on the whole I thought it went reasonably well, but just like any interview you walk out thinking - should have said, should NOT have said etc etc etc!!!! We were first to be filmed (thankfully) as we both find that quite an ordeal.

Anyway - its done, the dye is cast, the decision made, we can do no more - we'll know whether we were good enough at the lunch bash in London on 2nd June. We've both bought new outfits, (any excuse - although I thought SOH would faint when he bought his!) and we will wait and see the outcome. We have a function at the Post Office tower the night before which should be fun, and we are taking 2 of our team with us.

The Vic has been humming.  Hugely busy still and a packed weekend looms ahead of us. We're running a special promotion on Champagne all weekend, and the new Prosecco menu is being VERY well received. 

We welcome Kaytie to the kitchen team as our new Chef de Partie - here are some of the team on the pontoon opposite the pub.  The sods know I hate going on it but they thought it was a 'good photo opportunity'!!! They'll pay for that.

I have also had another Chef accept a job with us today, so we are absolutely on a roll and I have some big plans for our business after the summer holidays, but you really are going to have to wait and see for more news on that front!! Front of house we welcomed another full timer to our team - Jess. Lovely lady with bags of experience, and also a new 'runner' Emily.

On that note, I'll say ta-ta for now - be sure to keep an eye on our facebook or twitter account for news of how we get on in London!!

Much love to you all,

Liz x

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Keep calm dear - it's only an interview!!!

Yep - my stress levels get set to rise again as we (SOH - Scrumptious Other Half and I) travel to London next week for the next round of judging to hopefully get us to be the winners of this years very prestigious BII Licensee of the Year award!

You may recall I've spoken previously about our quest for this award, we were semi-finalists the year before last, finalists last year and I'd quite like it to be third time lucky, but who knows.
This bout of judging last year was probably one of the most nerve wracking things I've done in many years - for all sorts of reasons.

Firstly, I WAS incredibly, gut wrenchingly nervous! I haven't felt as bad as that over anything in YEARS!!! I am so competitive and I so didn't want to let our team or customers or SOH down. I've had scores of interviews over the years and also interviewed many dozens of people myself, but this was sooooooo far out of my comfort zone.

But also I was still fat! Yes FAT! My clothes were tighter than tight and my button pinged off in the ladies before we'd  even said hello to the judges!! I did the whole process with a small safety pin that kept popping open and stabbing me in the tummy. I got anxious, hot and sweaty and my beautifully made up face resembled a cherry tomato by the time we were filmed at the end of the morning. It's very hard to concentrate and appear professional on answering questions from a Dragons Den type panel when all you can think about is whether your trousers will survive the next 2 hours!!!!!

When I'm nervous I speak even more - correction, I babble -  and faster than ever (I know, that's INCREDIBLY hard to believe!!) consequently my adrenalin levels went through the roof and by the end of the morning I had the headache from hell and didn't stop shaking for the best part of an hour afterwards.  I think I slept the entire journey back to Devon I was so shattered.

So my motto this year is: Keep Calm and be Awesome - because we know we're great, our business proves we're great, we've just got to remember everything we need to get across, do our homework on all the likely questions (remember to let SOH get a word or 3 in!) and as for trousers?? I have lost loads of weight since that cringe making morning and my interview outfit is ready to go!

We're meeting good friends the night before for a meal in London so I'm sure that will relax me no end:- memo to self relax does not mean get blotto!!!  Hung-over for an interview is definitely not a good look!!

This Friday though I have an absolutely lovely evening to look forward to as I'm going to MEET Michael Ball before his concert in Plymouth.  I've splashed out on one of the Meet & Greet tickets that seem to be so popular these days, and I have (I hope) a great seat after that event to see a man perform whose music I have loved for many years.

A Bank Holiday weekend and a diary full of bookings will also ensure that our minds are taken off next week and today has been spent typing up the summer menus for the 8 weeks that we will run them, starting Mid July. Just where is this year going!!!!????  Tables in the pub garden have been sanded and painted (a nice pale green - very pretty), once the frosts are gone there will be planting, and the bunting for regatta week has been ordered. We have nearly a full compliment of our summer team signed up and ready to go as well.

This weekend we have our resident Storyteller & Magician making themselves popular with kids and adults alike.  Hop over to the latest news page on our website for all the dates and times: Why don't you sign up for my infrequent chatty newsletters too whilst you're there?!

What else??? Oh I know, I have been immersing myself in the likes of Master Chef and also the new Alex Polizzi (Hotel Inspector etc) programme Chefs on Trial.  I absolutely love all of those sorts of programmes where our business in one way or another is examined and I'm always keen to see what we can learn.  I would love the opportunity to meet Alex and see what she thought of the Vic!! I already have some great ideas for the Autumn menu's and where we're going to go next with them and better still my kitchen team are up for the challenge. What is it?? Oh no, sorry - you'll have to wait and see!!

So till the next Blog when I'll tell you all about our trip to London town,

Much love

Liz x

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Hard work brings more work...........

I've long held a belief (drummed into me by my much loved, but long departed Mum) that (and I quote) 'Hard work never killed anyone' quickly followed by (I quote again!) 'But why give it a chance'!!!  Consequently, I've always had a very strong work ethic, and believe I've worked quite hard ever since I left school  at 15 &1/2 with not one qualification to my name (I was even a failed 11 plus).  So, where am I going with this blog tonight??

I guess it's to say I've never been so successful in my working life but I also NEVER worked so hard - EVER!!!!  The more successful and popular we become, we seem to be working harder than ever - but in other directions and not just pulling pints! (mind you being a publican is NEVER just about that!)

One day recently
For example - we implemented a feedback form for customers to tell us if they liked what we're doing, what could we do better and would they like a newsletter clogging up their inbox 4 times a year.

Good idea?? Absolutely blooming fabulous BUT.............. I now have to sit trying to decipher bad handwriting, enter it onto a database, deal with comments saying thank you or whoops!

A website?? Brilliant - but woe betide you if it's not kept current and up to date! (no point having it otherwise)

Trip Advisor (even those 2 words make me shudder) can make or break the mood of my day!!

Twitter, Face book and Instagram?? Oh my word - there are just not enough hours in the day!!!

So next time dearest darling customers, you wonder why I'm not behind the bar it's probably because I'm glued to a computer/phone/tablet screen somewhere. I might (pah!!) be on a beach somewhere hot and sunny (nothing planned for a while) but I guarantee my IPhone won't be far away!

But I like nothing more than meeting other successful people and I'm really lucky to know a few who are around me here in the South Hams and guess what?? They're also women!

Zoe - who owns The Beauty Lounge here in Salcombe.   A young woman with the most fantastic business. Great products, high work ethic and on her way after a relatively short period of time to being exceptionally good in her field. Already expanding her business and starting to be recognised for excellence in the field of Beauty.  

Sara who owns HAC in Kingsbridge is another:
she is an award winning salon owner who takes training to another level for her team. She makes visiting the hairdresser a unique experience and is the consummate professional. She takes young people with an interest in hairdressing and turns them into exciting and enthusiastic stylists.

Lastly its Shani who owns Bella Borsa - a beautiful Handbag shop - in Kingsbridge. What this woman doesn't know about handbags and how to sell them is no odds to anyone (much to my SOH's chagrin). It is almost physically impossible for me to walk in and walk out without buying one of her beautiful, high quality bags or purses.

What unites us as successful businesswomen?? A passion for excellence, a will to succeed, the drive for delivering a great product and a commitment to a high degree of customer satisfaction. As well as the ability to consume copious amounts of wine and chocolate when the going gets tough!!

But principally its hard work, determination and effort. 

On that note - I'm off to the pub to work a shift on the bar!

Love and hugs to you all,

Liz x

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Where do I start??

Welcome George
In between a couple of short weekend breaks (Copenhagen visiting the Carlsberg Brewery and Portsmouth to welcome No 2 Grandson George to our family) it's been a time of frantic work and trying to achieve a list of tasks.

But before more of that, we are delighted to let you know that we have been shortlisted to semi-finalists for the exceedingly prestigious Licensee of the Year 2015 run by the BII (British Institute of Inn-keeping - our professional body). This resulted in a flurry of activity by the team as anything that stood still longer than 5 minutes was cleaned and polished to within an inch of its life!! Customers were lucky to escape with a light dusting!!

Seriously, getting that far in a completion like this gives you the opportunity to view your business with a more critical eye.  Have you ever watched Dragons Den and the Dragons interrogating the people trying to get money from them?? Well I can assure you its a little like that. But we have it reasonably sorted - SOH does all the
clever finance stuff and wows them with his mathematical prowess (this time even getting a judge to agree that he was wrong  not quite right!)

Whilst I do the chat - hard to believe that, isn't it!!
Having said all of that, I still needed 2 paracetamol when they left (perhaps they did to) We'll hear if we're finalists in about 3 weeks time.

Just before I carry on - we now have our very own badged bitter - 'Salcombe's Best' at only £2.90 a pint!! Probably (!) the cheapest bitter in town!

Anyway,  I am slowly getting to grips with a list of techy stuff that frankly I've been delaying as long as possible - the most important being a newsletter.  You know one of those things that come up in your in box as yet just another e mail to read and generally get deleted without even being looked at!! But I'm really hopeful that you won't do that to mine.

Firstly, they're only going to come out to you FOUR times a year (Ye Gods, I can't do it any more often than that!!) it'll be full of inane chat about the Vic and maybe even a special offer or two - so if you think you can bear it, head over to our website and sign up.

Then I've been updating the website with pics, this blog, Trip Advisor updates, staff training, getting the Easter entertainment schedule sorted and then the SUMMER MENU planning.

Apart from that - well what else could there be?? Oh yes! Running the Vic!!

Laters Darlings

Liz x

Sunday, 22 February 2015

February Half term

Well can you believe that February half term has been and gone, we've synchronised our diaries right up until September and we're looking at a very, very busy year! We've had enquiries for parties from Australia, bookings for the Hobbit are looking healthy (a prime fortnight in August has just cancelled if you're interested??) and we already have dinner bookings for summer holidays!!

We've received interest from young people wanting to join us for the summer holidays as well as we're already looking at new and interesting summer drinks. The next biggest challenge for us this year is to achieve a great exciting summer menu that
works for our customers as well as making it easily and speedily achievable for the kitchen to produce. 
This January and February has been full of ups and downs already, we have had four deaths of friends and acquaintance's, which filled us with sadness but we have also had reasons for great joy!

One of our team - Jade - has safely delivered a bruiser of a boy; James almost 8 1/2lbs - very glad to say that Mother and baby are very well. We are due a 2nd grandson any day now, and we are looking forward to a trip to Copenhagen at the weekend with a visit to Carlsberg Brewery on the schedule.

Our trophy!
But most exciting of all was receiving the Tenant of the Year award from our brewery St Austell. It was an amazing evening and we were both thrilled to bits to have our hard work and that of our team recognised.  I always love the fact that St Austell put on such a great bash to say thank you to their hard working tenants and I think everyone that attends it recognises that as well.

I undertook a cookery course at Ashburton Cookery School last week and I loved it!! I highly recommend it to anyone who loves food! It was great to do something just for me for a change and I learnt that I'm not a BAD cook, I just need to take my time and taste, taste, taste!! But I must say categorically this was just for me - not work.

Lastly, I was in Kingsbridge last week when I bumped into this loveable and quite gorgeous Cockerpoo in training to be a Hearing Dog. Our A la Bark menu has so far raised in excess of £1200 for this amazing charity and it was lovely to see our donations working.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Happy New Year - 18 days late??

Good evening and a Happy New Year to you all............ yep, I know its the 18th January so I may be a tad late in sending you those best wishes! But honestly my dears we haven't stopped!! Sitting down to write a blog hasn't been that high on my agenda but a customer last night said how much he looks forward to my scribbling's, so I decided to make the effort.
Magic Mark

Well, what an absolutely amazingly busy Christmas and New Year we had here in Salcombe and especially at the Vic. I think we could have had a pub three times larger than it is and STILL be unable to seat everyone that wanted to join us for drinks or food! Absolutely amazing and whilst of course everyone went home after the NY there has been another wave of people here and we are continuing to see more people at this time of year visiting Salcombe than ever, ever before.

But first, Christmas and NY - well, we always shut now on Christmas Day, but we were booked up for Boxing Day 2 weeks before the date (unheard of previously!!). New Years Eve we had been fully booked by end of October (I think) all bar a couple of small tables.

Old Gaffers
We had the usual last minute cancellations (2 tables) although the last one of a table for 3 with only 3 hours to go left us all distinctly unimpressed (especially the comment of 'we don't expect a refund on the deposit' - oh don't you now!?!) However, a walk-in of 2 people left us back at having 92 guests for Dinner that evening.

Magic Mark came and wowed the guests with his brand of close up magic - I've stood next to him and I'm blessed if I can see how he does it!! He will be coming back in the year to work with the children over the holidays.
The amazing Old Gaffers delighted everyone as usual!  

The 'Jolly's party
They go just go from strength to strength and it is amazing how many people now come in to listen to them, sing along and then buy their CD's. They have become a real institution of the Vic and seem to fit in so well.

Great food, fantastic service, free entertainment - it seems a winning formula and one we'll probably replay next year! We had guests leaving us that evening asking about booking for NYE 2015, so that was a fantastic result!

We always turn the bar lights off and close the bar 5 minutes before midnight so the whole team can see in the New Year with a glass of Champagne and go outside to watch the fireworks. It always tickles me how the pub goes from fully packed, to empty and then packed again in the space of 15 minutes............... quite funny really and something that even now makes me shake my head and smile.  

Mick & Julie's engagement NYE 2014
We also had an engagement on NY Eve with Mick and Julie pictured here......... blimey the team were in raptures and there was lots of ohhing and aahhing. We were more then happy to give them a glass of bubbly to celebrate and we wish them much love and happiness, and hope they'll always remember that very special evening.  
The kitchen team did a great job with the food that they cooked and here they are enjoying a well earned drink.
So what now?? Well a new menu will be written and in use sometime over the next week.  SOH and I will be having a couple of days in Hampshire next week (2nd grandchild on the way very soon)
and then we have the annual St Austell Tribute awards in Newquay to look forward to at the end of January.
So for now, it's goodbye till the next instalment and where's my cup of tea.............????
Much love
Liz xxx

Friday, 19 December 2014

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year darlings

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year darlings from all of us here in Salcombe and what a flipping year its been for us here at the Victoria. I don't know about you but I have no idea where this year has gone to - have you???

I'm going to ask for your tolerance while I just recall a few highlights in our year:

Firstly - there was the much talked about re-furb in January which went really quite well. The decision to put ourselves solely in the safe hands of the designers and team was well founded, although the mood board was well received by our customers I still couldn't help listening to those who said they thought we might spoil the Vic. Our managers at St Austell promised me that all would be well and that EVERYONE would want to sit upstairs............. I should have listened!! Because they were right!! The re-furb was every bit as beautiful as we hoped (and prayed it would be).

Its given us another 36 covers upstairs and the visual impact of the staircase as you enter the Vic is amazeballs!!   The re-furb hasn't been without it's issues though, both physically in terms of having to have shut for a few days recently to have various bits re-done and re-painted and my temper has been stretched once or twice to a bit of a limit because of this, but we've also had to learn as a team how to deal with having another space to manage.

I have to say that our team have risen to that challenge brilliantly! We were able to increase our permanent team and also took on a couple of extra part timers.  Even the cleaners had to adjust to a very different pub to keep clean - but all of them have been amazing.  We have carried on with our management training to ensure we were all equipped to move with the changes, so huge thanks to Guy Arnold.

Our kitchen team also took some advice from a Michelin Chef  Peter Gorton about tailoring our menu to increased numbers - all advice was gratefully received from everyone in the transition phase.

Peter Gorton with the team
Increased seating has led to increased footfall, and this summer was the absolute best we've ever had.  We had probably the best summer team ever who quickly settled in and made such a huge contribution to the success of our summer trade.

Our apprentices went from strength to strength - sadly Blake has left us, but he's gone on to a AA rosette hotel,
Aaron collected a special award from his college and Megan our first ever front of house apprentice is showing huge promise and already receiving plaudits from her college.

There was also more storytelling from our resident writer and illustrator Mark who once again pulled in excited children and their parents who sat enthralled in the summer sun as stories were spun and dreams made.

We were incredibly thrilled to receive the very prestigious Taste of the West Gold award early this year - this was incredibly important to us as it reflects the local nature of our produce as well as our commitment to perfection.

Following on from that Tim (SOH) and I were placed in the top 6 Licensees of the country  - although not winners (and yes I admit - GUTTED!!!) we felt we did really well to get to the top 6. The pic shows us gurning for a selfie - sober!!! You should have seen us at the end of the night!!

Following on from this we also won the Devon Life award for Best Family Friendly pub of the year.  Again, this award was also important to us as customers had to vote for us to get us into the finals, and it proved to us that all our little touches like the A la Bark dogs menu (for which we've raised over £2k this year already) the children's toy boxes and menus (all home cooked and fresh, just like the grown ups) had all worked to increase our popularity.

Having an upstairs space has encouraged more Christmas parties to come to us this year, and we have been fully booked for NYE 2014 for a couple of months now - we even have a cancellation list!!

Somewhere along the line I've also lost well over 5 stone (although a glorious holiday shoved on over a stone and a half !) but no more the fat faced woman as you see in the picture opposite.

So all in all it's been an amazing year, it's not been without it's challenges, there have been times where we've sat and looked at each other exhausted and marvelled at what the Vic has become, but there has been much laughter, some frustration, and a massive pride at what we have ALL achieved.

On that note, Tim, myself and every single one of the Victoria Inn team wish you our customers, all of our friends at St Austell brewery and all of our suppliers every best wish for 2015 and I hope Father Christmas brings you all you ask for.

I hope you'll continue to follow my blog in 2015,

Much love and blessings to you all

Liz  XXX

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