Jamie Flodman, landlord of the Royal Oak Country Pub and Pantry in West Lavington
Q Are pubs becoming less important to the community – or do we need them more than ever?
A More than ever, there is a huge challenge that our industry faces at this time. Your local is integral to our society and community, and for one’s wellbeing alone! Even more so during this boom technical age; people just don’t talk to each other anymore – it’s all email, texting and social media. Pubs can provide stimulation for conversation and friendships, enable the young to look out for the old, and the old to pass on their wisdom! Our pub is the ideal environment to bring people together, even if it’s just for a coffee and a chat, a game of chess, a nice meal, a party or just to enjoy one of our events such as the comedy supper club, friday night live music or our fortnightly pub quiz. We provide our dining room and private oak room free of charge to groups, businesses and local artists to hold their exhibitions and also hold a ukelele club.
Q There are 18 pubs closing every week – how are you bucking the trend?
A The great British pub has stood the test of time and will no doubt suffer more closures in rural Britain. Challenged with supermarkets providing every reason to dine at home and offering fantastic deals on wine and beverages, we are facing some tough competition, especially for the tenanted and leased element of our business. Pubs need to be versatile and adapt, not only to market trends, but also to create opportunities and innovate. We are looking forward to adding our farm shop to The Royal Oak which will establish us as a community centre, as well as a place of entertainment/social gathering. Our food is our true strength which has helped to develop the business as a destination venue.
Q How important is it to give people a warm welcome?
A It goes without saying – a welcoming smile means everything. All of our team form part of the formidable host when anyone enters our pub. It costs nothing to be courteous; I don’t think people realise the importance of a simple hello and goodbye.
Q Tell us about your favourite regulars...
A We have an eclectic mix of wonderful customers... but some things are best kept private!
Q Are you running any extra events for CAMRA’s Community Pubs Month?
A We have so many events on a regular weekly basis it sometimes proves difficult to add extra events. Our local community is a mix of business owners and young professionals, and very active pensioners – though I use that term with a chuckle, as I can already hear their cynicism taunting me! We organise food and wine events, charity events and are working with our neighbours for the village barbecue which is happening shortly, so we’re always kept very busy.
Q How much has the internet affected the role of pubs?
A The internet has opened the public’s eye to choice and expectation. It has certainly helped establish pub businesses that are located off the ‘beaten track’, so to speak, the rural pubs. I have spent a career running bustling pubs in London and found it intriguing the role of social media in the country. We use Facebook and Twitter daily as a means of communication, as well as mailers to our database ensuring we are connecting to our customers. It is interesting to see nowadays how much Google and the search engine mentality has affected our lives: we pre-judge somewhere before we have paid a visit to a pub. Are we only as good as the websites we currently demonstrate? And we have free wifi access in our pub which is handy for all, especially the quiz cheats!