SLTN Award-winning Carriages is ready for a busy summer season

Local venue has a sunny outlook

By Dave Hunter

SLTN Award-winning venue Carriages is in fine form going into this summer season as the team looks to make the most of their first class outdoor area. 

Carriages, in Kilmacolm, scooped Best Outdoor Area, in association with Magners, at the 2023 SLTN Awards. 

It was an award win that came after a few years of change for the venue. Owned by husband and wife team Karen and Graeme Finnie, the pub was refurbished and reopened as Carriages in 2019. 

However, when the pandemic led to the departure of the venue’s tenant – who also leased the couple’s nearby Fox and Hounds pub in Houston – the Finnies had a choice to make. 

Would the couple – Karen, a pharmacist, and Graeme, an accountant – take over the running of the venues themselves, or let them fold, with the loss of more than 40 jobs across both units?

Running the pubs was not the plan. But I found something I was passionate about.

“It  (running the pubs) was never in my remit,” Karen told SLTN last month. “It was not the plan. I was forced into it and then I found something I was really passionate about.”

Four years later and both pubs are flourishing, with many of the same staff in place. 

At Carriages, Karen and Graeme work with general manager Ryan Blair and assistant manager Sophie Jenkins – both of whom are experienced hospitality workers with a grasp on the local market and clientele. 

The Carriages team – from left, assistant manager Sophie Jenkins, Karen and Graeme Finnie, and general manager Ryan Blair – with host David Walliams at the SLTN Awards 2023

Food is a big part of the offer at Carriages throughout the year, with the venue doing a brisk trade right from breakfast. 

Working with suppliers including Bidfood, Booker, Campbells and Bernard Corrigan, the team has put together a seasonally-changing menu which includes dedicated doggy dishes to cater to local dog walkers (Carriages is located right next to a popular cycle and walking path) as well as pub classics like scampi, fish and chips, mac and cheese and burgers. 

On Sundays, Carriages offers a carvery that has gone down a storm with its customers. 

And to help stimulate business at the start of the year the venue ran a number of special food offers in January and February to bring customers through the doors. 

“We did wee things in January, February, wee deals – 10% off with your loyalty card, two for one on a Tuesday, just to keep things ticking over, keep people interested,” explained Ryan. 

“January and February slows down a bit, but that’s everywhere. Everyone’s counting their pennies in January after Christmas.”

Regulars can enjoy other perks, too, with the team often treating their loyal locals to some free snacks to reward them for their patronage. 

“A lot of places don’t do these types of things, but we know these guys and if you’re good to them they’ll be good to you,” said Ryan. 

We know these guys, and if you’re good to them they’ll be good to you.

Living in an affluent area, the Carriages customer base is quite discerning – and that’s as true of the young team as it is of the more mature clientele. 

Ryan said: “At the Fox the young ones drink a lot of shots, whereas in here they’re drinking a large glass of Sauvignon and a double Bombay Sapphire and slimline tonic.”

Other big sellers with the Carriages customers include pints of Guinness and Tennent’s.

As a free of tie business, the team is able to deal with a range of suppliers, with products sourced from well known names including Tennent’s, Dunns Food & Drink and Inverarity Morton.

The drinks selection at the venue changes throughout the year as well, with rotational taps from brewers including West and Brewdog as well as a selection of other beers, wines and spirits. 

Ahead of the summer season Carriages will be installing the Thatchers Fusion font on the bar, which dispenses three different flavours of cider from the same font. 

“I think the ciders work really well for the summer,” said Sophie. 

“Plus it’s more cost-effective. There’s no bottles, no waste. It’s all on draught.”

But it’s in the venue’s sizeable outdoor area where the biggest seasonal changes will be seen. 

When it’s in full flow, the extensive area nearly doubles the venue’s capacity. Fixed seating runs along the side of the building, with a large open area at the front of the venue which can either host free standing tables and chairs or be rearranged to host events including barbecues, live music and even weddings.  

And the Carriages team plans to make full use of the space through the summer months. 

On 5th May, the venue marked the start of the summer season with a garden party, followed by a number of events over the coming months. 

“At the top of the beer garden we will be putting up big screens outside, because obviously we’ve got Scotland in the Euros, we’ve got Wimbledon, the Olympics,” said Ryan.

“So we’re going to put the big screen up the top of the garden and then TVs facing out from the windows so that you can watch the sports from the tables out there as well.”

Rain or shine, it should hopefully be a strong summer for the team at Carriages.