The Wiremill: Leading the way to serve the less fortunate during COVID-19

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Six weeks ago, staff at The Wiremill Lakeside Pub & Inn were welcoming customers into their cosy bar and restaurant, serving them delicious fresh produce with a smile, and encouraging them to stay a while to enjoy the atmosphere. That all changed – as it did for thousands of other pubs and restaurants – in March.

Unlike many, The Wiremill has remained open. It has done this carefully, by investing in technology that can help it manage takeaways, and with a lot of consideration for the health and wellbeing of staff and customers. Here, Tim Foster, co-founder of The Yummy Pub Co, which owns The Wiremill, offers valuable insight for other food outlets in their position.

Tim starts by telling us about the pub before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We didn’t offer takeaway or delivery before all of this, we were a gastro pub, a destination and food business primarily. We knew people to travel for miles to visit us and we served really good, fresh food to them all week long. That’s not to say we hadn’t considered food delivery in the past, but the margins had never stacked up. Going with any company that charged commission could go against us moments of business pinch points.”

Of course, all of that changed when, on 20th March 2020, the government mandated that pubs, clubs, bars, theatres and restaurants had to close.

 “When that happened, our immediate concern was protecting our staff. Our workers are hard-working and dedicated. Like many others, we’ve had to place them on furlough, but four of them have decided to stay with us on a voluntary basis. They’ve moved into the pub hotel and are helping us as we adapt to the crisis.

“Once we knew we had to close we went into research mode. Like others, we can’t afford to close completely for months so we’ve looked at every angle of the market, trying to find a way that we can remain open in some capacity so as to help people in need. We considered creating ready meals or turning ourselves into a production kitchen. We settled on becoming a takeaway. Our goal is to get the business out of furlough; we don’t want to take money from the government when that money is so badly needed by the NHS and others.”

What The Wiremill is now doing is nothing short of inspirational.

“We are working around the clock, making noise and petitioning to help people in the hospitality industry be heard. We’re also dedicating a large chunk of our time to helping those in need. We’re asking visitors to our website to donate so that we can create and deliver gastro meals to the most vulnerable in our society: the old, the homeless and the less abled. We’re making ready meals for the NHS, and this week, sent 60 meals out to a special needs school in lockdown and with no catering facilities.

To keep doing this, we need to be making some money, and we’re doing that by offering takeaway packages to the local community. We found a great deal for an online ordering system with no-set up fees or commission costs and we’ve launched an online ordering portal for customers.”

But how are you adapting to government requirements for takeaway?

 “Our site has been transformed. As I mentioned, there’s five of us living on site, remaining in isolation together. Together we’ve turned our bar areas into storage and packaging lines, while the kitchen is being used to prepare foods; we’re vacuum packing meat, so it remains fresher for longer. Our goal here is to minimise waste, the further we can make our ingredients go, the less pressure we’re placing on the supply chain.

“We’re offering grocery boxes. People can order food staples such as eggs, milk, bread, wine, meat, vegetables – things they are craving – and toilet rolls. Everyone gets a gift voucher for when they return after the pandemic, and there are also surprise treats. Last Sunday we put Yorkshire puddings in for free, and we’ll be putting chocolate eggs in at Easter.

“When customers place their orders online, they select a collection slot and tell us their car registration number and colour. They then back into our dedicated parking bays and open their boot – we can then deliver packages into the car without any need for person-to-person contact.”

 The response from customers has been incredible; it shows how keen people are to access grocery produce from local businesses, rather than supermarkets.

“It’s really been amazing. We’ve been taking it slowly, not overcommitting to anything so that we can get used to the workload and ensure we meet requirements. On the first day, for instance, we stopped at 30 orders; we would have been taking a hundred orders a day if we hadn’t limited ourselves. We’re gradually increasing the number of orders we’re taking as we find the right balance.”

Given the experience Tim and his team have had, they’re well placed to offer advice to businesses in similar positions.

“If we could offer just one piece of advice, it’s this: put people first, not profit. You should investigate online ordering and find ways of staying open, but make helping (staff, community, key workers) people the reason you’re doing so. We are doing this to make a difference, to help vulnerable people and to be a part of the community. There are elderly people who say they’re ok, but they’re not. If you can help them, you should.”

After all of this is over, will business return to the way it once operated?

Not entirely, we will keep a takeaway service, that’s for sure. But I think changes will be felt wider than just at a business level.

This is going to change the world; the high street will look very different and business investment will be less. People’s spending habits will be altered and will remain so as tax is has to go up. The great positives are the joy people are finding in each other and the simpler ways of life. This is the dawn of the age of ‘Be Kind’, it will lead to greater respect. Respect for farmers, respect for key workers and respect for each other.”