Take positive action against the old guard

When you buy a new business, you buy the old suppliers and the old customers. Both can cause frustration.

Within a couple of days of taking over the General Tarleton at Ferrensby, I was screaming for help – the point-of-sale (POS) system in the bar had broken down.

“It was purchased a couple of years ago from a firm just up the road – I’m sure they’ll be most helpful,” I was told. Helpful, my foot. A spokesman told me: “We haven’t sold the service agreement to you but to your predecessor, and in any case you haven’t got a licence to use our software.”

They said they would not be able to do anything until the following Monday afternoon at the earliest, and then only if I signed a new maintenance contract and purchased a new licence from them.

They presumed they had me over a barrel. Happily, we have an excellent relationship with our supplier for the Angel, Infodata of Newbury, who had a new POS installed and up and running at the GT by the following weekend, which filled me with satisfaction.

First complaint


Customers can be a bit difficult, too. I had my first letter of complaint – from someone who “lives locally and has been eating food in the bar of the GT for years”.

He accused me of changing the menu to “nouveau” cuisine. “We’ve enjoyed good old pub food for years. Why change it?” he asked. The “nouveau” cuisine he referred to was, in fact, roasted cod on olive and caper mash, steak and braised oxtail.

I had said glibly that I would honour all arrangements my predecessor had made. I now discover I have a dinner for 50, three courses, with a wide choice of menu, for £16 per head. Associated accommodation is £17.50 including breakfast. “They drink a lot,” I was told. “They’ll have to,” I said. Now I find the organiser wants to discuss a reduction in the cost of the wines.

We’ve had some staff leave too, one a barman who doesn’t like having to serve food, and a few part-timers who don’t like to pay income tax. However, first to leave was a resident. He checked in on our very first afternoon and met his wife, who came in a different car.

Juliet, my wife, happened to be in reception when they arrived. “What a charming man,” she said. “He even paid in advance.”

“He always does,” said one of the other staff. “He usually leaves by six o’clock.”

“In the morning?” asked Juliet. “No, the evening,” came the reply. Juliet was silent while she thought about that for a few moments.

Some suggest that Juliet is the unofficial director of our firm. At times she might lay claim to being spiritual director too. She assures me that she said nothing to the gentleman, but I’m suspicious, as he hasn’t returned. “Could have helped the occupancy,” I said, ducking for cover.

Denis Watkins

First Published in the Caterer and Hotelkeeper 19th January 1995

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