When Iris McBride was handed the BT Sport Manager of the Month trophy just over a year ago things were looking rosy for her pub, McBride’s on the Square.
Business was booming, scores of parties and tables had been booked for Christmas and the family freehouse in Comber, County Down had been rewarded for its innovative rugby deal.
Customers would pay between £20 and £28 for the . This included a ticket to a home Ulster match, a pint and burger at the pub before the game, a coach trip to and from the Kingspan stadium and a pint back at the pub on their return.
It was not a vast profit maker for McBride’s but it ensured customers visited the pub on days when they may have gone straight to the ground and then home.
As we know, 2020 turned out very differently, but the last 12 months were not without their high points as Iris explains.
“We had a really bumper Christmas and New Year, it was going really well. A lot of it was repeat customers with our Christmas functions upstairs for our various clubs, such as archery, bowling and car clubs. It’s very different this year.
“The rugby package was really good for us because we have a good core of about 30 people who go on the bus and Ulster were doing well.
“They’ve now started letting fans back into the ground but one of the guys told me, it’s quiet and cold and they can’t even come back to the pub for a pint!”
And that’s just one of the challenges that have presented itself to McBride’s since March.
When it was announced the people should not go to the pub it decimated our trade. We had to cancel our band for St Patrick’s night, we ended up just doing takeaways for Mother’s Day and we lost the end of the Six Nations as well.
However, rather than bemoan their luck, the McBride’s team adapted to their new circumstances.
“As well as the takeaway service we started doing deliveries from the off licence we run at the pub.
“We added click and collect to the website, got a new logo designed and worked on social media. We also re-upholstered the seats, sanded and polished the floor, painted, and upgraded the CCTV and alarm system. Now we are toying with the idea of changing over to natural gas.”
On top of all those improvements, there was also time in lockdown to keep customers entertained, albeit remotely.
“We did some Zoom quizzes from April to July and we will do another one for Christmas. We did it with a cheese and crackers and red wine package from the off licence.”
It has kept the business going but it has still been the most challenging in the 45 years the pub has been in the McBride’s family.
“The customers have been very supportive of the off licence and takeaway food. It is helping to cover costs but of course we are way down on last year,” adds Iris.
But we have never had a year like this and I wonder what our parents would think if they were still alive.
The pub reopened in July with strict new measures in place. It was well supported by the community but it was a very different proposition.
“Trade was good but we didn’t have the space to meet demand for it. The vast majority were very cautious. They would come in, have a bite to eat and be gone in 90 minutes. “Sport at the weekends was still working for us, with football and especially Ulster.
“It was very strange with people having to sit down to watch the game when they were used to standing at the bar.”
Iris and the team are now looking forward to the future, in which sport will play a big part in the business.
“We have worked really hard and we should come out of it OK but I do think that some places just won’t be able to reopen again. It’s a pretty uncertain situation and I don’t see it just being the same as before.
Sport will still be a big part of it when we return. I really miss the buzz on those big sports days. We were watching rugby at home a little while ago and thinking ‘wouldn’t it be better down the pub with a couple of pints of Guinness?
- BT Sport’s Manager of the Month prize is designed to reward passionate and innovative sport-loving licensees who go the extra mile for their customers. To nominate yourself or someone else who you believe would make a worthy winner get in touch with us on Twitter at @BTSportBars using the hashtag #BTMOTM.