Introducing: Kings Arms Haughley

The Kings Arms in Haughley is a small independent business owned and managed by Grant Newland and Lucy Jones. They have just hit their 4th anniversary since taking over the business in October 2016. They are a food led establishment that prides itself on using fresh local and seasonal produce. They offer great versions of pub classics as well as something a little more unusual, in a pub atmosphere, but with restaurant quality service and experience. We caught up with Lucy from the business to learn more.

Speaking of the team, they are a very small team of 9 in total. They are also a very young team but motivated, keen and have a great team spirit to push the business as a whole, not just ‘get the job done’. In terms of anyone interested in being recruited, Lucy suggests “Experience isn’t necessary, they just have to be willing to learn.”

We asked who the target customers are, and Lucy responded “Anyone and everyone! We are family friendly and dog friendly. I think we cater well to all aspects whether it be a date night, a work meeting, quick coffee or a swift beer or cocktail with a friend. Geographically we tend to draw more from the villages surrounding Bury St Edmunds and towards Ipswich.

Are you relying on repeat business or are you trying to attract new customers? “We are hugely reliant on repeat business. We want our guests to want to keep coming back. We have a strong customer base of return custom and we pride ourselves on that and remembering what they like to drink, where they like to sit, etc. It makes it more personal, and we want everyone to feel comfortable and relaxed when they visit us. We fully rely on word of mouth. We want new customers to come because their nearest and dearest have recommended it. They are the people that we all trust, likeminded individuals. You can’t beat a recommendation from a friend or family, and it’s how we have grown our business from day one.”

It seems the customers remain loyal, as a few testimonials include the following:-

“A wonderful evening and in these challenging times it was a treat to be out and feel very safe, and normal!”
“Great team and incredible food.”
“Fantastic food and first class service. A true Suffolk gem!”
“As ever – the team delivered the goods – great service, fabulous food, an all-round top-hole performance!”

The pandemic has impacted on us all, but how has it affected your business, and how have you adapted to survive? “We struggled to adapt during lockdown itself due to supporting our own family. But as soon as we were able to we got the team back together and have been working endlessly since to ensure that everything is as safe as it can be whilst still offering the same standard (if not better!) than what we did pre-lockdown. Its been hard on everyone but we just have to fight it, the strong will survive. We have had incredible feedback from customers regarding our safety measure around Covid. We like to think it is safe and reassuring without being clinical. After all, eating and drinking out is one of the only ‘normal’ things we are all still able to do so the experience has to be as positive as possible.”

As for the business itself, has it been busy or slow picking up again, and did any of recently announced government initiatives have a positive impact on your business? “It hasn’t been slow, but we are open limited hours. We need to see more restrictions lifted before we are able to open more, as it is too risky at the moment. But we are so grateful for the custom we have had during our limited opening hours at the moment. It is more than we expected and could have hoped for, and the support is ensuring our business will outlive Covid! Eat Out to Help Out was not valid for us due to our opening hours, it was a great idea but it didn’t suit our business. VAT reduction is of course a benefit to the business and the industry as a whole, but we worry about when that ends, the margins are so small that even if the VAT was returned to normal rate, it could tip our business over the edge.”

In terms of safety, what measures have you put in place to ensure the safety of your staff and your customers? “One way system, sanitiser points, disposable menus (but we did this anyway!), NHS app check in on entry, increased frequency of cleaning, staff temperature checks on arrival each day, and staff wearing masks. As well as increased spaces between our tables, removed sofas and lounge area for seated drinks tables, online booking system, a new till system and tablet ordering to be able to access all areas of the premises for table service, inside and out.”

What, in your opinion, gives you an edge over your competitors, and what do you think you could do to develop and improve? “I think we are unique in our offer in the fact that our service and our food quality is unmatched. I think it’s unusual to get service that is as good as the food, unless you reach Michelin level. We truly pride ourselves on having a warm welcoming atmosphere with knowledgeable staff that care about what we produce as a team. Our menu changes very regularly and we only use seasonal ingredients and local suppliers wherever possible. All of this but in a relaxed pub atmosphere I think makes it a great establishment.” As for moving forward, “We would love to reach a wider audience in Suffolk, although we were honoured to be listed as a finalist this year and last year in the Suffolk Food and Drink awards, we would love to gain recognition for what we do and the standard we push to achieve.”

Looking forward, what gives you confidence for the future of the business “The level of support and gratitude we have received since reopening has been overwhelming. We just want people to keep coming and enjoying what we do. We love what we do and we put everything in to it and we don’t want it to stop, especially not because of something out of our hands like Covid-19. Overall the future of the business looks positive and we have no reason to think otherwise, we aren’t the sort to give in and we certainly won’t let this stop us. We are looking at ways of adapting at the moment including offering a takeaway offer which will run alongside our usual opening hours which I think will help to reach those customers that aren’t comfortable coming out as yet, but still miss the experience of hospitality and dining out.”

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