Expansion continues at award-winning venue in the north east
By Matthew Lynas
CHEERS Cafe, Bar & Tavern has come a long way since publican Dennis Forsyth purchased the unit out of receivership in 2005.
Back then, the smoking ban was still on the horizon and Forsyth saw potential in a unit with such a large outdoor area. In the intervening years, Forsyth has picked up a number of industry accolades, including last year’s SLTN Independent Pub of the Year Award, in association with Kopparberg.
But despite the awards, Forsyth said success for the Fraserburgh venue was never set in stone.
“The first few years it struggled and it wasn’t until I left my other two jobs [in the oil and gas industry and at Fraserburgh venue the Elizabethan Bar and Lounge] to concentrate on its development in 2009 that things started to improve,” he said.
“I had no other choice but to make the business a success or leave and return off-shore.”
Since taking on Cheers, Forsyth claims turnover has increased almost eightfold. And although the venue has been reshaped through two major redevelopment projects, it’s not the building work that he credits with boosting the business.
“We attribute our success wholly to good and comprehensive staff training, which I believe should be the foundation for any licensed premises wishing to do well in our competitive industry,” said Forsyth.
Cheers has its own dedicated training room in which staff undertake a range of online courses covering everything from customer service to health and safety.
In addition to these courses, staff also participate in drinks masterclasses held in the outlet’s main bar.
Forsyth’s commitment to comprehensive staff training has yielded results in several areas of the business, including at the bar’s taps, with the venue winning the SLTN Award for Beer Quality in 2012.
To achieve and maintain standards, all staff receive training in beer quality and Forsyth employs a retired beer and cellar technician to inspect the cellar and clean the lines.
“Good beer requires excellent training, it’s as simple as that,” said Forsyth.
“Our staff undertake several cellar management and beer quality courses and also in-house training.
“We take records of everything: beer temperatures from the font, cellar temperatures, frequency the glassware is renovated, when glass washers are cleaned, etc.”
And it’s not just with the pub’s offer that Forsyth goes the extra mile.
When looking to improve the venue’s accessibility, his search for a pub-specific online training course ended with him becoming involved with VisitScotland’s recently – launched e-course on the subject. After getting in touch with training firm CPL to discuss the possibility of developing a pub-specific accessibility training course, Forsyth and Cheers came to the attention of Chris McCoy, accessibility tourism Scotland project manager for VisitScotland.
Forsyth now features in VisitScotland’s online accessibility training course, launched earlier this month, with the publican offering advice based on his own experience.
Accessibility was also a key feature of a major, £150,000 redevelopment in 2012 which saw the creation of the venue’s canopied outdoor area.
During the project, a ramp was installed to improve access for wheelchairs and larger mobility vehicles, a second larger disabled toilet was built outside and a section of the outside bar was lowered to allow wheelchair users better access when purchasing drinks.
For Forsyth, the decision to improve his venue’s accessibility was triggered in part by a question posed on an application form for the Best Bar None awards on the provisions in his premises.
“It hit me like a hammer to the head, I thought ‘wow, I should know more about this’,” he said.
The enhanced accessibility at Cheers forms part of the ongoing investment in the business.
I had no choice but to make the pub a success; it was either that or return off-shore.
Forsyth spent a further £50,000 in spring of this year converting part of the outdoor area into an enclosed dining section.
The result is a space that can be split into three distinct zones: a 40-capacity smoking area located beside the main bar which is furnished with tables, chairs and a waterproof television; a non-smoking al fresco conservatory dining area that seats 80 diners and has an overall capacity of 120, furnished with a pool table and waterproof TV; and a large main area, three-fifths of which is covered by a canopy, featuring leather sofas and bistro furniture with a capacity of around 140.
And Forsyth isn’t quite finished yet.
The next project will involve expanding his business into a unit adjacent to Cheers.
The proposal, which is awaiting planning permission, will include creating another beer garden accessible from the existing outdoor area. The new area will also be canopied and heated and Forsyth plans to build a stage to host theatre and dance performances.
“We intend to hold beer festivals, market stalls and also use it as a large children’s play area – we’re very excited about this project,” he said.
“Once that is completed we will move on to developing a building next to this new area.”
Forsyth’s plan for the building next to Cheers is to convert it into a six-bedroom hotel with a new office and reception area as well as a gift shop.
“I can’t rest on my laurels,” he said.