Friday Opinion – Propel Newsletter – 19th July 2016
Sometimes you walk into a place and immediately feel at home and comfortable, as though you could just sit down, kick off your shoes, curl up in a chair and simply relax because it all feels so warm, welcoming and friendly. That’s how I felt when I visited The Little Elephant in Woolton near Liverpool last weekend. My friend Suzie, who lives in Liverpool, organised the lunch so I had no idea where we were going until we got there – so was surprised to see a blackboard referring to the Flying Pig & Lobster. A quick email to Roy Ellis confirmed it was part of the group.
This pub, to me, is the epitome of the perfect local – the holy grail of a great community/neighbourhood pub. As it says externally “The Elephant is a village pub for friends and families”.
Why does it work so well?
It appeals to the broadest possible demographic base. There was a birthday party going on, lots of millennials, a pair of elegantly dressed over-70s having a snack, tables of “women who lunch” and several multi-generational groups – all socialising side by side. This is a pub for everyone – democratic, unifying and accessible.
The layout has been really well thought through with a mix of high/low/small and large tables, long runs of seating, booths, high/low seating and casual chairs. Importantly the sight lines are relatively short from almost every point in the pub giving it a sense of intimacy from all angles. In other words you could go for any occasion and find somewhere to suit. One large, high table was occupied by those working on their laptops having cake and coffee, giving the pub a very easy and relaxed feel.
The lighting is perfect. Lighting is a bit of a bugbear of mine because it seems to be the last element of interior design to be thought about and yet it makes such a difference to the atmosphere and vibe. Here it works really well from both an ambiance and illumination perspective.
The pub has a flexible, innovative and modern food menu that has something for everyone. Increasingly pubs are going to have to cope with customers who want to bespoke their meals from items they see on the menu and who are intolerant of any lack of flexibility on the part of the kitchen. They really don’t care about the impact on the kitchen if they go off the menu piste. No such problem here – nothing was too much trouble for the team (or the kitchen).
It has a programme of events that focus on building a sense of community amongst those who use the place – a pub trip to the Lakes, a dog show, an open-air cinema evening, live music in the garden. All communicated in a way that smacks of a sense of wanting its customers to belong.
This is a place that puts the customer first. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s self-deprecating and has a nice sense of humour, for example the outside sign that reads “Sunny garden (some of the time). Sunny people (all of the time)”. And those customers definitely include children. There are baskets of crayons, games and the children’s menu at the entrance meaning families feel comfortable from the moment they come into the pub (or eat in the fantastic child-friendly garden).
We went to its sister pub The Viking in West Kirby for Sunday lunch. Again, it has brilliant team members, fantastic food, great ambiance, an amazing garden and superb use of space. I loved it. So two great, well thought through pubs, which the locals in both areas patently love too – but then again what’s not to love about them? They are the blueprint for successful community pubs of the future.
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Written by Ann Elliott, CEO of elliotts agency