No-nonsense Neil | Scottish Licensed Trade News

Scottish Licensed Trade News

No-nonsense Neil

Neil Morrison

Picture: AJ MacLeod

Neil Morrison, owner of Macgochans in Tobermory on Mull, The Lochside in Bowmore on Islay and The Benleva in Drumnadrochit, is the 2017 SLTN Entrepreneur of the Year and winner of the SLTN Independent Pub of the Year award for Macgochans in 2014 and 2017. In a trade career spanning more than 20 years he has run venues across Scotland, including Glasgow and Edinburgh. Here he offers no-nonsense, practical advice to SLTN readers on operational issues. 

Do you have a question for Neil? Email sltn@peeblesmedia.com »

Click on questions below to show answers.

Q: I’m a chargehand in a well-kent bar which has a ‘dog friendly’ policy. For the most part, our canine ‘customers’ cause no trading difficulty. However ‘Pedro’ (not his real name to protect his identity), although a tiny Chihuahua, causes embarrassment to other customers on a regular basis. This happens when his owner, a good regular punter, gives wee Pedro some beer and he gets a bit frisky. I don’t want to lose my regular customer by barring his dog. Any idea how to deal with this awkward situation? - Keith, Glasgow

A: I’m sure we have all been in wee Pedro’s shoes from one time to another and I can imagine that Pedro feels rather disgusted with himself the following day when he sobers up and the flashbacks start! It might be worth stocking some doggy beer and you should see a dramatic improvement in Pedro’s behaviour and less attention being given to your customers’ legs.

Cartoon by Ranald MacColl.

Cartoon by Ranald MacColl.

Q: I’m at my wits’ end with some of my staff. I’ll often walk into my pub to see three of them standing behind the bar chatting to each other and putting the world to rights while customers are at the bar waiting to be served. I have tried to encourage them to be more aware but it doesn’t seem to make any difference. What can I do? - John, Edinburgh

A: You’re overstaffed! If you feel the need for three staff members then you need to put one behind the bar, one on the floor meeting and seating guests and the other floating between the tables and the bar. Split them up and make sure the bar person knows to focus only on the bar customers. Remember, the situations you see in your experienced eyes are totally different to what your staff will see. Train, train and retrain. There is no such thing as common sense in this game.

Q: I’ve recently purchased a bar on the island of South Uist. I’ve owned a few bars in Ibiza but made the move to Scotland as I fell in love with the country. I’m looking at putting on live music and was wondering how hard or easy this would be to do? - Hector, South Uist.

A: Live music thrives on the Uists so I’d say you’ll have an easy job getting great bands and showcasing them to the locals, although I’d aim for Calum Kennedy rather than Carl Cox. You will, however, find the drinking culture in the Hebrides very similar to that on Ibiza… with the exception of bottled water, so watch you don’t overstock this in your new venue!

Cartoon by Ranald MacColl.

Cartoon by Ranald MacColl.

Q: I operate a hotel which is, generally speaking, really popular with tourists. However, we recently had a very difficult couple staying with us who, despite our best efforts, were not happy with their stay. They’ve since taken to TripAdvisor and written what we feel is a very unfair, harsh review – and we’re worried it’ll put future guests off staying with us. What can we do? – Andrew, Perthshire.

A: TripAdvisor can be one of the most useful tools out there to keep staff concentrating on exceeding customer expectations. Yes, there can be awkward customers; however they tend to be unimpressed with their first impressions of the venue and, after this, it’s just a fault-finding mission for the rest of their visit. The benefit of this is that you know they are disgruntled early on, giving you or your team ample time to rectify the situation. Make sure complaints are dealt with by you or a senior member of your team; and remember to never get defensive when dealing with a complaint – you should be on the customer’s side straight away and do everything in your power to make sure they leave with a good impression of the venue. Regarding the above, be sure to respond to the complaint by being humble – customers understand that every venue can have an off night so an honest explanation of this tends to work best.

Q: My wife and I run a small village pub which is generally busy with locals, which is great. However there is one customer who has real personal hygiene issues. He’s a good customer who drinks six to eight pints a day. What do we do? – George, Borders.

A: Oh I’d get your wife to approach this one! Ask her to say to Fred, lets call him Fred for argument’s sake, ‘Fred, is that you smelling today, you normally smell so fresh’ (wife needs to smile and possibly touch his shoulder when talking) and hopefully he’ll take the hint. Or get him some shower gel for his birthday! Failing that, a more blunt approach is required – ‘Fred, you’re stinking and we’re getting complaints from other customers’. If you’re not comfortable approaching this then you can retain your six to eight pints a day sales but could be losing thousands from food sales and putting off other customers. The sooner you address this the better. On a serious note, I’d also maybe enquire about his home situation as he possibly needs support.

Cartoon by Ranald MacColl.

Cartoon by Ranald MacColl.

Q: I have just bought a small hotel with a large bar and restaurant attached in a busy coastal area but I’m nervous about implementing a food offer as I have no background in this whatsoever. I have looked at the wage costs of some chefs and it is petrifying. Should I just stick to rooms and a small drinks offer? – Elizabeth, west coast.

A: Go hard or go home Betty! You said the area is busy and you obviously bought the hotel to make some real money. Look at what the current offer in the area is, ie. food, price point, quality, etc. and see if there is either room for improvement or a gap in the market for a new style that still fits the customer base. Do your homework and create a menu for YOUR hotel. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be simple food as long as it’s cooked and presented well. Don’t be dictated to by a chef as they rarely have a future investment in your business and they can come and go from one season to the next. Your hotel, your menu, your customers, your future!