Linlithgow pub still on the right track

Multiple SLTN Award-winning Platform 3 has customers and quality at its heart

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The Platform 3 team lifting one of two trophies last November

YOU could forgive operators Ian and Anne Gibson for experiencing a sense of déjà vu when their Linlithgow pub, Platform 3, stormed the 2018 SLTN Awards and picked up not one, but two trophies.

After all, this isn’t their first rodeo.

Back in 2013, the pint-sized pub took home two awards, when it was named SLTN’s Community Pub of the Year, and the bar’s Iain Hewitt, now a director in the company, was named SLTN Barperson of the Year.

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Five years on, the pub repeated the feat; Platform 3 was crowned Best Independent Pub/Bar, in association with Carlsberg at the 2018 SLTN Awards, and its manager Becky Smith was named Bartender of the Year, in association with Molson Coors.

While the award wins were “fantastic” for Ian and Anne, for Becky it represented her first industry accolade.

Having worked part-time in the trade since 2011, Becky originally joined Platform 3’s sister pub The Volunteer Arms in Uphall in 2015 – the same year she graduated with a degree in Visual Arts. Having quickly moved up the ranks, she became manager of Platform 3 in 2017 and, alongside using her degree to redesign the pub’s branding, gained various trade qualifications, including the likes of a BIIAB Award in Wine Service and WSET Level Two.

“I was definitely rooting for us to get Independent Pub, but I didn’t think Bartender would have come up on the night,” said Becky.

“But it was an amazing feeling.”

Platform 3, so-called because of its proximity to Linlithgow train station, was established in 1997 and has been operated by Ian and Anne since 2002; and the venue is home to plenty of eccentricities – from a model train riding backwards and forwards above the bar, to hundreds of rubber ducks looking down on customers from the rafters.

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A winning trio: Becky Smith with Ian and Anne Gibson

The latter are not just decorative; each year the pub sponsors the local Rotary Club’s duck race to raise funds for local community groups.

It has raised in excess of £50,000 over the past 12 years – and it’s created a new tradition among regulars, many of whom bring rubber ducks home from their travels abroad.

“When we started doing them, regulars would bring a duck back from their holiday, which would be themed on where they were, and it kind of took over – so we had to build another shelf to hold all our ducks,” explained Becky.

“An agenda item at our [next] team meeting is going to be who volunteers to come in on a Sunday and clean them; they’re due their annual bath,” Anne quipped.

It’s just one example of the bar’s good relationship with its customers, which was further underlined when SLTN’s interview with the team was briefly paused as they wished a regular, who was leaving the pub and due to go in for an operation the following day, all the best.

“It’s like a wee home to everyone,” Becky admitted.

“It’s got that atmosphere about it. Everyone that drinks in here is really friendly.”

And there’s no denying the importance of Platform 3’s drinks offer to its success with locals, according to Ian.

“This is very much a beer-led pub,” he said.

“That’s what it’s all about.”

Having built up a reputation for quality draught beers and ales, the pub, which is Cask Marque-accredited, has been included in CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide for 20 years, which last month led to it being crowned CAMRA Forth Valley’s Pub of the Year.

Platform 3 recently switched house cask ale from Deuchars IPA to Stewart Brewing’s Pentland IPA, which had previously been a guest beer on one of the two guest pumps.

And the pub is now using widgets rather than standard rods in its cask beers; this means customers are “getting the freshest beer all the time”, according to Becky.

The changes are an example of a continual improvement plan, which is underpinned by set procedures.

“We set ourselves targets and then every quarter we review them,” explained Anne.

“My instinct is you can be overly bureaucratic, but we’re not; we have monthly meetings, we have quarterly appraisals and, usually every ten to 12 weeks, we all go out for the night.

“We’re just as rigid on that side as we are with everything else.”

Not only does this approach keep the business steaming ahead, Anne said it helps retain quality staff; various members of Platform 3’s team have celebrated their ten-year work anniversaries.

There was wider ranging celebration, too, after Platform 3 made its debut on the small screen in an episode of detective series Shetland earlier this year.

“There were people going about the town looking for locations and we were approached to be a pub in one of the scenes and we thought, why not?” said Becky.

There are further enhancements to the back of house operations due to come into effect later this year; and Anne said that despite the challenges in the trade, creating a quality and fun environment keeps her and the team motivated.

“We must be doing something right when you get the awards but for me it was a total shock – the team will tell you; I was totally gobsmacked,” she said.

Anne and Ian’s delight is clear; as well as the SLTN Awards having pride of place in the pub, a special custom-made banner showcasing their wins features outside. And Anne reckons future entries could be on the cards.

“For me, well, five years down the line we’re still up there, so probably in five years’ time we’ll be giving it another go,” she added.