The countdown to Christmas is well under way at the Taverners, in Godshill on the Isle of Wight. Chef-patron Roger Serjent and his wife, Lisa Choi, finalised their festive menu at the beginning of October. However, interest from potential punters began in August.
As a result they can be confident of a bustling trade: "Weekends and key dates will be busy," Serjent says. "All our Friday and Saturday nights in December are fully booked for groups, with a couple of bookings that are taking the whole pub."
Mentor Lee Cash, from the Peach Pub Company, and Serjent agree that booking out the pub for one party runs the risk of alienating regular guests. "Go for the occasional one, if it's for the right people and at the right price," Cash advises. "The Taverners does have a separate room that can be used for parties."
Parties are offered a set, seasonal menu (four starters, five mains, four desserts) to choose from on the night, at £23.50. It's an increase of £4 on the couples' first Christmas in the pub last year. "I believe people will pay a fair price for good quality," Serjent says. "And we are in line with other similar pubs on the island."
Much of the pre-booked Christmas trade is made up of regular customers who bring work groups and family with them. In addition, there are a lot of DFLs ("down from London") who visit their holiday homes.
As such, the couple have so far not needed to promote themselves with advertising, successfully recognising the power of word of mouth on the island as a marketing tool. However, they agree when Cash says that not marketing your pub because it's busy is misguided.
Cash suggests eâ'mailing the summer guests to invite them to Christmas at the Taverners, as well as future events in the New Year. Serjent and Choi agree, but their booming trade means they struggle to find the time to action all their plans.
The couple plan to present their team with a small Christmas gift for their efforts, but Cash suggests they also take the opportunity to introduce a kitchen and front-of-house incentive targets. They did this over the summer tourist season and the kitty went towards a staff day out at Thorpe Park.
Strong trade continues at the Taverners and following a bustling summer season Roger Serjent and his wife, Lisa Choi, rewarded their staff with a day out.
"We closed the pub for the day, historically the quietest of the year, and took the team to Thorpe Park and then to a pub in Surrey for dinner," Serjent says. "It was basically a thank-you for all their hard work."
After struggling for the past few months, Serjent has finally been able to recruit a new head chef of the right calibre, which he hopes will allow him more time to concentrate on other areas of the business.
Plans to open a shop selling "home-cooked" food to holiday-makers are in motion and Serjent and Choi hope to have licence variation approval imminently; however, it is unlikely to be ready before Christmas.
"Our biggest problem at the moment is Sunday lunch," he said. "Recently it has become very busy, and we're struggling to cope in the kitchen." It is hoped that things will improve with a new head chef on board.
The external staircase to the first floor flat has been replaced and the outstanding electrical works have been completed.
"We're still beating budget," Serjent added. "Which is great."