Lockdown licensee who took his pub to the people is the BT Sport Manager of the Month

Matt Todd of The Wonston Arms wins the trophy and the £1,000 prize for his innovative beer delivery service

Like many landlords Matt Todd of The Wonston Arms feared the worst when Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the nation’s hospitality industry to put up a collective closed sign in March. 

The community freehouse in the Hampshire village, that he has taken from the brink of closure five years ago to winning CAMRA’s coveted National Pub of the Year title, was once again facing an uncertain future.

Matt explains: “A pub is all about people and it turned overnight into just a building. I was having a nightmare.”

That bad dream started to improve when customers asked Matt about leftover stock.

“The phone started ringing and people were asking if we had any beer in the cellar… we emptied it in a day and then I thought maybe I can take beer to the people.”

He set up a website and e-commerce platform for customers to use to order beer. It proved hugely successful with Matt picking up beer from breweries across the south of England and delivering to customers within an eight-mile radius of the pub.

We were flat out. Customers found it amazing to have real ale to their doorstep on the same day. I ended up taking a barstool out, putting it down and having a chat. I was the landlord out in the community talking, which is what this job is.

As well as speaking to his regulars, Matt ensured The Wonston also reached previously untapped areas of the community.

As well as speaking to his regulars, Matt ensured The Wonston also reached previously untapped areas of the community.

He continues: “58 per cent of the customers we delivered to had never used The Wonston before. They were testing us out and in some cases testing real ale out for the first time.”

Matt’s delivery van and bike became familiar sights around the village and proved to be vitally important to the business.

“If we hadn’t done something during lockdown I am not sure we would still be here. If I didn’t stay in contact with my customers things would have been pretty bad on the other side.

The service was so successful that Matt is continuing to run it even with the pub itself back in business.

The beer service will carry on. People have changed habits and I always say you need to adapt or die so I will be running the beer delivery service with the pub. Together they make a business.

With lockdown restrictions lifted the pub has re-opened the garden and is now welcoming customers old and new.

“It is a very soft re-opening. I have lots of elderly customers and some people are very nervous. The pub is too small to really open inside so I have taken everything that people like about it from the inside and moved it outside.”

This includes a TV screen that sports fans are able to gather around – socially distanced of course – to watch live sport as it too gets back to business.

Matt explains that live sport has always been a vital part of the offer at The Wonston.

Matt explains that live sport has always been a vital part of the offer at The Wonston.

“I have had BT Sport from day one and continue to. For me, it is a really important hook to get people off their sofa. It is part of a pub culture, it is part of what we are as Britain and I am committed to it.

“The lead sport here is rugby and then football. Everybody supports someone which always provides a bit of healthy banter.”

He believes the tournament style conclusion to this season’s Champions League and Europa League competitions is going to be good for business.

People are keen for the Champions League and we will shape our pub hours around the games. It is a real selling point of BT Sport and it is one of the reasons why people come here.

“The fact that the tournament is on for a couple of weeks is exciting and hopefully it will keep the tills busy.”

And as a CAMRA Pub of the Year Matt has been able to dispel the myth that football fans will only be found drinking lager.

“I am known for my cask conditioned ales and part of my job is to educate and get people over the myth that cask is a fusty old fashioned beer,” he says

“I give them a sample, give them a taste, put it in front of a traditional lager drinker and they are surprised. I have certainly converted lager drinkers to cask ale.”

As well as introducing the beer delivery service, Matt says lockdown provided an opportunity to look at other areas of his operation, including his digital output. 

“Social media and interaction with the customers has been really important during lockdown. We have done Zoom quizzes to try and keep people together. I have been very busy on social media. I spend about an hour and a half a day on it and it is a really vital tool for us.

I have seen the BT Sport seminars and they have been a good platform for people to learn about social media. I always say take whatever help you can get. If it is out there, use it.

His efforts over lockdown have resulted in him winning the BT Sport Manager of the Month award for July, along with £1,000 to spend in the BT Sport shop.

It is a prize that he rightly feels proud to have picked up, although he says so with characteristic modesty.

“I think everyone is going to say you were the only place that was open so no wonder you won it!

“There were loads of pubs doing really innovative things to stay alive during lockdown. The award is about customers, it is a reflection on them supporting a new service during lockdown. A big thumbs up to them.

“I feel proud of it and I know the customers do too.”

  • Do you have what it takes to be a BT Sport Manager of the Month winner? Tell us why on Twitter, using the hashtag #BTMOTM, and you could be in with a chance of winning the prize and a visit from the BT Sport crew.

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