Saturday, 31 August 2013

Almost over and its goodbye to.........

 Yes - the Salcombe Summer Silly Season is almost at an end and its goodbye (for now) to the Dragon and the Snow (you had to be there to see it!) to the choices of Hot Chocolates and Chips (and why not??) and summer Strawberry Pavlova's (as we shortly change to fortnightly menu's and a bit of an Autumnal twist)

As we say goodbye to hundreds upon hundreds of children who've whooped with delight at seeing the playground in the garden and the many who screamed as they were carried out who actually wanted to stay all day and all night!

To all the parents who were glad of respite and enjoyed a long cool drink whilst their children were entertained by Mark Fraser ( and occasionally SOH ) who read his stories and generally made a great space for performing art right here in our stunningly beautiful garden.
Its also goodbye to so many of our fabulous young summer staff who carried, lifted, shifted and cleaned up after a record breaking summer. To Honor, Aussie, Rachel, George, Harry, George 2, Lily, Will, Lucy, Ed, Blake, Aaron. Those who now go back to start sixth form, or university with a whole new set of skills under their belt.  To our fabulous full time staff who took the summer in their stride and are now knackered - you all did a fantastic job!
To our customers who loved us and came back in droves - thank you...... We're so glad you liked us enough to return time and time again.  Many of them have stayed down here for most of the summer (the weather has been so glorious) and firm friendships have been made yet again.
On the occasions when we were so busy that waiting times were longer than we would have liked - I'm really sorry............. we will look at the way we work and try to do better next year.  But you know, how ever hard we work to get enough staff on our rota absolutely NOTHING can factor in that on Bank Holiday Sunday we were 2 members of staff down through sickness! Despite a couple of us doing morning till night shifts we still weren't able to work as fast as normal with absolutely record breaking numbers of customers.
Here at the Victoria Inn we hope that all our customers are going home refreshed, re-newed and rested - if so, then Salcombe will have worked it's magic!
Liz x

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Trials and tribulations!

This is going to be a very honest blog today, I often use this blog to 'advertise' the Victoria Inn and there is no doubt that a blog is what many people use for just that purpose! However, when I started this blog almost 5 years ago, it was very much about MY journey as a landlady and the trials and tribulations of a career change (at an advanced age).

As an individual I've always been highly competitive and have always held high standards in my working life, and I like to think that it's mostly a good trait - certainly many customers over the years have said what 'a tight ship we run', how 'well organised the pub is', and certainly the growth of the business to much extent gives those remarks credence. 

So it was something of an upset when we received our Taste of the West award the week before last. As you can see, I've proudly put it at the top of the page (it's also now on our website) but actually at the time I was totally and utterly gutted!! I fully expected us to have been awarded a Silver at the very least................

Do you know how upset I was - I went home, wailed on good friends shoulders and then opened a bottle of wine! In the lunch hour!!!! Jeez!!
But once I'd had a day or two to digest the news and read the report for the umpteenth time and re-read the accompanying e mail for the 20th time, I realised we'd actually done quite well on our first attempt - but you know what? Quite well doesn't cut it for me.

So after a period of reflection, staff avoiding eye contact with me (!) and soul searching talks with each other and our valued members of staff we've instigated a number of plans to ensure (hopefully) a Silver next year in the TOT awards as well as more success in any other competitions we enter. But also to ensure complacency in the business is vanished, customers will hopefully appreciate our commitment to achieving the best for them as well as challenging ourselves and our staff to succeed and succeed and succeed.

We acknowledge as a business in Salcombe and in the pub business generally, we do extraordinarily well (particularly in a business where pubs are still closing every single day) we have many loyal customers (& now they are friends) who come in every time they're on holiday or visiting their holiday homes) often many times a week or so, we have a good following of locals - particularly in the more mature / couple bracket, and this summer we've once again broken all existing records for meals cooked and people served (with very few complaints!).  We are still No 1 on the dreaded Trip Advisor, and feedback from customers is usually very good, but, like any feedback, this TOT Bronze Award has given us the opportunity to look at our business and make changes where we think best.

This week has seen torturous meetings with the Chefs (trust me, NO-ONE in the entire world hates criticism more than Chefs!!) and a bit of a reality check.  But, once ego's had been lovingly restored and personal issues were extracted from the mix, then as usual my guys (& Gal) stepped up to the challenge.
  • From the 10th September we will be introducing fortnightly menus, and those menu's will be reduced by about 5 items - this will give Chefs the scope for their growth in cooking - not just cooking the same dishes week in week out, but also more importantly it will give our customers the opportunity to enjoy really great food but still at reasonable prices   
  • We will also be changing our Specials board to be more 'Special'  - that DOESN'T mean more expensive - it just means more what I've said and there will be changes made almost daily according to what Fish is available. We will only have 4 specials a day with 5 at the weekends
  • We use fantastic local West Country produce and we want to turn the spotlight back on to the X-Factor of great fresh produce with great flavours and beautiful presentation 
  • We're going to put the 'WOW' back into Sunday lunches but still keeping them at £10.50 Watch this space!!
  • SOH and I are engaging a management consultant to help us look at our business through fresh ideas and help coach us to develop even stronger as a business - we've done this once on a one off basis and it really helped, so we're excited by this!
  • We're also employing a 'Mystery Shopper' at regular intervals to ensure our quality, consistency, customer service and VFM is always at a high level (almost anyone can be a mystery shopper - so if you fancy it, contact me, the broader scope of the customer the better)
So all in all, achieving the Bronze standard for Taste of the West IS a great coup, I am grateful to Taste of the West for having been awarded it and I'm equally grateful that it's given us the opportunity to review our aims and aspirations for the business and we both feel re-vitalised and excited by changes we are putting into place on the food front for the Victoria Inn.

In terms of the business itself - planning permission has been given for HUGELY EXCITING changes to the building - and when I know more about the whys, how and when - then I'll tell YOU!!!

I hope this blog post has been a bit of an insight for you and I'll write again shortly...................

Liz x

Monday, 5 August 2013

Summers Days (and nights!)

Fresh Plaice delivered to us by Kingfisher in Brixham
Well - the silly summer season of 2013 is finally here, schools have broken up properly and of course - the rain has arrived as well!

Every year since we've been here and every year we all (Managers and ourselves) sit down and try to figure out staffing levels based on what has been in previous years and how the year has been so far - bless me if every year we almost get it right!!  

Almost of course being the operative word.......... last year we lost three staff for various reasons in the first week of the season, which left us desperate and pining for wine from an early stage, and this time a key member of staff was unwell - leading to unparallelled limits being reached by several members of the team!! (ourselves included) because actually Salcombe at the moment this week looks and feels like Salcombe used to look when we first came down here nearly five years ago!! The streets have been wall to wall people and the sun has (until late last week) been shining and generally giving a feel good factor. So any variance in staffing levels is not good news for anyone.

As usual, guests visiting a pub in a seaside town expect to see fresh fish on the menu and this year is no exception - beautiful fresh Plaice from our supplier Kingfisher in Brixham has been on the menu alongside beautiful Sole, Hake, Cornish Sardines, Mackerel Fillets etc. and of course our award winning beer battered Fish & Chips. Steaks (Fillet & Sirloin) are as popular as ever as is the Double Baked Pork Belly.

Drinkers have been going for the Tribute, Proper Job and Dartmoor  - as strong as ever from St Austell, but Rattler Cider and Devon Northcotts Cider making a good showing! Ladies are loving the Pinot Grigio and new for us this year we've been making Mojito's (jugs & glasses) of which I can safely say are the cheapest in town at only £3.80! Again - hugely popular and alongside Pimms great summer drinks.

I always find this summer rush such a double edged sword (I think we all do actually) because we are pragmatic in understanding that it's this short sharp boost that helps support us massively in the rest of the year (although the Victoria Inn does now have a good all year round trade) but its just so exhausting keeping up with the constant demands of it. Yesterday for example, we were fully staffed up and it was looking like a usual 1st Sunday of Regatta week here in Salcombe - but the rain came and within minutes we were 4 deep at the bar and ended up serving well over 200 lunches............ quite a lot more on the entire day than last year, and today has been similar - yet this afternoon...........??? Dead as a dodo!!

James, Tania & Stuart - our 3 great Chefs!
But. back to our brilliant staff and this year again we're being supported by young people, some of whom have never had a job in their life - but their work ethics are amazing and they are doing incredible jobs of clearing, tidying and running the length and width of our garden delivering food and smiling strongly!

Most of our staff are local people but a few of the University guys are of course from far and wide - but right now, we are giving employment to about 20 local people (local in terms of the South Hams area) not bad is it...???  The wages sheet for this week shows 27 people relying on us for income (as much as we rely on them) an awesome responsibility I often think.  

So - almost time for the evening rush - a pretty full booking sheet reflects tonight could be hairy.............. laters darlings!