The pub offers a small menu of simple, non-fussy British cuisine that is cooked from scratch and, where possible, sourced locally. A beef and ale pie is the most popular menu item, made with Pilgrim Ale brewed in nearby Reigate, and a slow-cooked shin of beef. Belly of pork is another favourite along with Bramley apple crumble for dessert.
"We know exactly what goes into each dish, which is useful for our customers who are allergy sufferers," explains co-owner Rosie Robinson, who works in the kitchen with head chef Simon Adams. "We give our chef the opportunity to come up with new dishes, and because we are cooking together all the time we often inspire each other." Adams adds: "People appreciate our simple, unpretentious, tasty food. Quality of produce is key, but if you try too hard and make dishes too complex, you can spoil the natural flavour of the food."
On mentor James Horler's advice, the Robinsons have implemented careful stocktaking of all food items. "Stocktaking is a challenge for an independently run business like ours, because it is so time-consuming, but we were up for it," says Rosie. "Now that we have a system in place stocktaking is complete in 30 minutes, and the real benefit is seeing the figures and having more knowledge on the impact of portion control and waste on gross profit. We are also easily able to keep an eye on price movements of all our stock items and this helps with cost saving."
Horler also advised the Robinsons to keep a close eye on the food GP when launching special menus, and Rosie says they are "watching this like a hawk". Horler comments: "I think Chris and Rosie have their food right. They have been doing weekly stocktaking and they've learnt a lot from that through reducing wastage and menu engineering. Their sales growth of 15% over the past month in this market is a great achievement."
Friday Street, Abinger Common, Surrey RH5 6JR
3663 ON THE STEPHAN LANGTON
At rural pub the Stephan Langton the entire menu is prepared from scratch - from the bread and mustard right through to the relishes and sauces. Owners Rosie and Chris Robinson are passionate about local produce, and where possible all recipe ingredients are sourced locally. A Spring Dinner special features on the current menu, where the watercress in the watercress soup is sourced from the next village, Abinger, and the chicken is from Sussex.
Rosie says: "Our customers expect local food, that's just the way the market is - so we shout about it. London is not far away, so we can source our fruit and vegetables from the market at Covent Garden. We also use village shops where quality and quantity available allows, and as we are a distance from the sea, we use a local fish supplier who sources his ingredients from the markets. I'd encourage others to give it a go, but it can be time-consuming, and farm shops and suppliers are not always transparent about their offerings. It's worth going to see the suppliers in person and asking about the products they are offering."
While this is one way of obtaining local produce, it doesn't have to take time and effort personally sourcing these products. 3663 currently supply more than 500 products from local producers to customers in East Anglia, the South-west, Wales, Scotland and Yorkshire, with the aim of giving customers across the UK access to a locally sourced range so that they can buy produce unique to their location. For example, customers in Scotland can now choose from a range of Scottish products including haggis, ice-creams and chutneys, easily ordering them for delivery by 3663 along with their standard food orders.
Marketing controller Catherine Hinchcliff has been discussing costing and the importance of understanding and identifying the dishes which drive margin with the Stephen Langton.
Proprietor Rosie says: "Although it's been a slow and painful process, costing our menu has been a good exercise and helped tremendously. We've listed all our ingredients and costed each dish so everything is now on a spreadsheet and our stocktake takes only 30 minutes. You can really see the impact of portion control and that giving food away, even if it's only a bit at a time, can have a big effect on profits in the long run.
"Catherine explained that a dish's physical position on the menu can impact its ability to sell. We've been putting the slow sellers at the top and bottom of our specials board and are seeing them sell. Now we know the GP of each dish we can use this tactic to push the most profitable dishes. Catherine also recommended spotlighting our home-made cakes and produce on blackboards behind the bar, and these are selling well too."
Fine weather and the May bank holidays contributed to a successful month for the Stephan Langton, with sales up 15.3% on the same month last year plus increased sales of 12.2% for the first five months of this year. Chris blames TV's Britain's Got Talent for "the quietest Saturday night of the year" on the third bank holiday, with just two tables booked for the night. However, the pub made up for this with one very busy Tuesday evening which brought in 25 covers, 21 of which were walk-ins.
The first food gross profit percentage for April was 66.5%, which Chris attributes to having a better understanding of costs. "We are pleased that we are just 1.5% off exceeding the target of 68% set with James Horler and Catherine Hinchcliff ," says Chris.
The Robinsons and key members of the team enjoyed an "inspirational" visit to the Real Food Fair in Earls Court, meeting organic, artisan food producers and suppliers, although Chris adds: "We were a bit disappointed that our own county of Surrey was not better represented, as we know there are some top producers here."
New offerings at the Stephan Langton include home-made bar snacks such as pork crackling at 20p apiece and olives. The Robinsons have also been using an A-board to promote home-made lemon drizzle cake and Luscombe organic drinks outside the pub. "The lemon drizzle cake flies out the door, and sales of ginger beer have quadrupled," says Chris. Following the success of a "well-received" spring menu, the Robinsons look forward to introducing their summer menu at the end of June.