Outside area of The Wishing Well pub with socially distance tables

COVID Case Studies #1: The Wishing Well, Bristol

Original publication date: 11th January 2021

Happy new year. Here’s hoping 2021 is everything that 2020 wasn’t: joyful, healthy and profitable for all. You’ve no-doubt made some new year’s resolutions and one of them might be to finally push yourself to go self-employed in 2021.

Well, we want to show you just what that looks like for the best Marston’s Pub Partners – the work-from-home heroes who’ve pulled out all the stops in the past year to keep making money and to keep their dream of running a pub alive, even under the most challenging of circumstances.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the first brilliantly creative pub team in our new series of COVID Case Studies. We spoke to Sally Lewandowski, who runs the Wishing Well in Bristol with her husband Gavin, about how they’ve been coping during the pandemic and what’s kept them successful in spite of the challenges, which have of course included having to close under lockdown conditions.

Hi Sally, thanks for talking to us and happy new year to you. Do you want to tell us a little bit about your pub to give the readers a flavour of what it’s like?

Sure, our pub is called The Wishing Well and it’s located in a small village just outside of Yate, Bristol, set in the rolling hills of the South Gloucestershire countryside. We run a dog and family-friendly destination venue, offering relaxed indoor and outdoor dining with roaring open fires and traditional real ales, served alongside the Marston’s menu, home-cooked pizza and our own specials board.

 

It’s a beautiful pub with a great offering. How did you come to have the knowledge to develop such a fantastic destination? I guess what we mean is, what were you doing before you decided to run your own pub?

Sally: Well, we were both employed as a management couple for another Marston’s franchise owner. The experience there led us to decide we wanted to take on the challenge for ourselves, so we approached our Area Manager for further advice and that’s what started the journey.

Congratulations for taking the leap! It’s a bold, exciting step even though you’ve had plenty of experience within the industry and with the brand. That must have helped you get started…

Sally: Yes, we knew and understood the Marston’s way – the operating standards, procedures and best practice – and had already built up a reputation with brand managers, marketing and training teams. Plus, from our initial conversations in confidence with our original Area Manager through to building new relationships with other area and regional managers, we were supported every step of the way in forming a new business and building it throughout the first year.

What does that support look like, day-to-day?

Sally: We have regular face-to-face reviews with our AOM, plus there’s a great deal of support available via the Marston’s social media channels and via the marketing, kitchen and training teams. There’s also a fantastic sense of teamwork with our other retail colleagues, both in the local area and further afield, as well as via events (such as menu launches, when allowed, which we’re not right now, obviously) and format briefings. It feels like the wider Marston’s team has all come together as a family to enable us to succeed in our own business.

That’s really great to hear. What about the past year, though? It must have been terribly trying. How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected your business and what have you done to try to counteract it?

Social distancing measures in a Marston's pubSally: During the initial four months that we were, to all intents and purposes, locked down, we learned a lot about painting, decorating and gardening, which kept us busy and enabled us to give the pub a bit of a makeover. It was great to be able to re-open to the new normal in July and we enjoyed a really successful end to the summer months, bringing our team back to work from furlough and launching a successful new Pizza menu, which has enabled us to offer takeaway food, and a late evening menu, which has been a roaring success with the local farmers who often join us after our kitchen has closed.

It’s lovely that people are supporting what is, essentially, a destination venue in a rural location by ordering takeaway. [Any readers in the local area who want to support their local pub – please check out the menu!] But right now you’ve had to remain closed during the Christmas season.

Sally: Yes, we’re now waiting with bated breath to find out when restrictions will loosen, allowing us to re-open. In the meantime, we’re busy working on ideas as to how we can make a big impact once we do re-open.

What kind of things have you done in the past to make a difference?

Sally: We launched ticketed music nights, which showcased local and national talent once a month. The ticket fee on the door, along with a complementary drink, provided up to 80% of the agreed payment for the acts. And, because these events attracted more people to the venue, our food and drink takings on event nights increased to over £3,000 just between 7pm and midnight. Things like that really make a difference to the bottom line.

And to your guests’ experience of the pub, overall, no doubt. Do you get much feedback from your guests and what kinds of things do they say, if so?

Sally: Oh yes, we actively encouraged compliments and feedback to be left via social media channels like Facebook, as well as TripAdvisor, Google My Business and Marston’s own Raise The Bar. We then share this internally with the team via our own Facebook Group so they know just how valued they are. And we respond personally to all compliments and feedback received.

What about during the pandemic? What kind of feedback have you been getting?

Sally: We pride ourselves on the safe, secure pub environment we offer during the COVID-19 pandemic and, we’re delighted to say, our guests have recognised it. In fact, let me share some with you now…

“From the moment we arrived, we knew it was going to be fine. It’s a few years since we were last here. We’ve clearly been missing out! The food was good and the service spot on! All very sensibly laid out to ensure we remained safe. It was a Sunday evening… we had no idea it was quiz night. But we decided to take part and thoroughly enjoyed the fun! I’m guessing we’ll be back… on a Sunday evening again.”

 

“Nice friendly pub with plenty of seating outside. Good dog friendly pub. We all had Sunday lunch, which was nice. Basically, £10 for a main course, which for what it was, was about right. Reasonable portions. Good service with a good pick-up system in operation for collecting your meals. Really good COVID measures for track-and-trace and one-way system in place.”

 

“The Wishing Well has set up a one-way system throughout the pub. There is a hand sanitiser at the entrance. Menus are on sheets of paper which guests are encouraged to take away. The tables are well spaced and some of them are outdoors under an awning. Despite arriving without a booking, we were made welcome. The new routine was clearly explained. We ordered at the bar and went straight to a table. Cutlery and condiments were brought to us. The food was served promptly and was good quality. The team members were attentive and we will be happy to eat there again.”

 

That’s amazing. Sounds like you’ve done quite a lot to ensure guest and employee Health & Safety in the pub as a result of the pandemic.

Sally: Yes, we worked with our AOM on how to adapt to the new normal. Then, we engaged with our team and spent a day working with them in the pub on how safe the environment has been made and the new processes put in place, including track-and-trace, hand sanitisation, one-way systems, social distancing and the one-in/one-out system.

Daily and hourly checks and cleaning schedules are also in place, which are completed by assigned team members on-shift. A team member can also act as a Greeter on the main entrance to the pub to ensure that guests are met, talked through safety procedures and made comfortable, relaxed and ready to enjoy their visit.

Well, it certainly sounds like they have been enjoying their visits, based on the guest feedback you’ve been getting. That must really spur you on to keep doing what you’re doing. What is it about self-employment that makes it so special as compared to working for someone else?

Sally: There’s more flexibility and control to being self-employed. It can be easier to fit around other commitments and responsibilities. The working day can become more varied as we work across all parts of the business, from cleaning and setting up the bar to running a busy dinner service in the kitchen. As we continue to build the business, we can explore our creative side as we think of new things to introduce, as well as reviewing and enhancing existing offers and, of course, we’ve ditched the daily commute as we live on the premises!

To find out more about running your own Marston’s pub, take a look at our overview, right here on this site. And, if you’d like to support the wonderful couple running The Wishing Well as a guest or ask them any further questions about what it’s like to run a Marston’s pub, you can find Sally and Gavin here.

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