Hands up if you would like to pay less for your beer. Exactly. There are few things we British care about more than the price of a pint. Take Terry Mellor, for instance. The landlord - or, to be more precise, the brewery's tenant - at the Wooden Doll in North Shields, near Newcastle, is hoping to cut the price he pays for draught beer by about £20 a barrel.
How will he do it? Well, he has been negotiating with Jennings, the brewery, to take over the leasehold at the Wooden Doll. As a leaseholder, he will qualify for a £20 discount on list prices. This shift in status will put his rent up quite substantially, but it also gives him more autonomy - and responsibility for the upkeep of the pub. He's keen to get that discount on the beer, of course, but just as important will be the opportunity to buy wines and spirits from other suppliers.
It's not that the brewery doesn't supply good wine, mind you. It's just that Mellor is keen to see the Wooden Doll established as a pub that's known as a great place to eat out, and being able to buy a much wider range of wine will be a big help.
It's a move that Dean Eccles, head chef at Strawberry's@theDoll, the restaurant-within-a-pub that has its home at the Wooden Doll, is keen to see pushed through. Although, under the existing business arrangement, the pub keeps the profits from all wet sales, Eccles knows he'll have the opportunity to draw up the kind of wine list that reflects the quality and variety his menu offers once Mellor is a leaseholder.
The ongoing negotiations with Jennings have meant a short delay to the planned refurbishment of the Wooden Doll's kitchens. However, it seems that Jennings is happy to go ahead with the alterations as part of the lease. Eccles should know when he'll get his bigger kitchen once Mellor finalises details with the brewery - and that should be within the next two or three weeks.
Eccles hasn't had too much time to plan ahead just recently, though. He spent most of the past six weeks cooking turkey for a stream of Christmas parties. He has been serving a mixture of buffets and sit-down meals (with three-course Christmas dinners at £12.95, £16.95 or £18.95) for groups of about 80 people. In most cases, this did mean he had to close the restaurant to other customers, but he still offered the regular menu to anyone who was happy to eat in the pub's lounge area.
Christmas day itself was a busy as any. Eccles managed to serve 122 turkey lunches over two sittings - one at noon and one at 3pm. New Year's Eve turned into a big occasion, too. Mellor booked local folk band the Happy Cats and Eccles prepared a lavish buffet for the ticket-only event that was sold out well in advance.
It was a fairly frantic festive season, to be sure, but Eccles isn't complaining: it meant Strawberry's@the Doll took £15,000 in sales during December, the best monthly turnover since the business was launched last February.
So did he get any time off over Christmas? "Not really," he says. "I had Christmas Day lunch with my girlfriend, Sarah, at 7pm, and had to be back in the kitchens on Boxing Day." Did you stick with turkey? "Oh no," Eccles says. "We had duck."
The story so far
Chef Dean Eccles, 33, opened Strawberry's@theDoll at the Wooden Doll pub in North Shields, east of Newcastle, at the beginning of last year. He pays landlord Terry Mellor a flat fee for use of the kitchens, and revenue from drinks sales goes straight to the pub. Eccles has had to put up just £5,000, to cover essential kitchen equipment and crockery, in order to start his own restaurant.
The Wooden Doll, Hudson Street, North Shields, Newcastle NE30 1DL
Tel: 0191-258 1235
Head chef: Dean Eccles
Opened: February 2002
Initial investment: £5,000
Average weekly sales (November): £2,700
Average weekly covers (November): 350
Average weekly sales (December): £3,350
Average weekly covers (December): 500