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Burns’ and Valentine’s Night

Many perceive January to be a dead month, however with planning and promotion, there is no reason why the first month of the year needs to be a washout for your bottom line. EC caught up with two award-winning pubs (one north and one south of the border) to find out what their plans are for January, Burns’ Night and Valentine’s Night

Dennis ForsythEven before the festive season had arrived, Cheers’ tireless owner/manager, Dennis Forsyth, was planning for both Burns’ and Valentine’s Nights.

“This year, both fall on the weekend, which enhances the opportunity to increase turnover in what are usually quieter months of the year,” says Dennis. “But why stop at just one day, why not the whole weekend or, better still, the whole week? In fact, we begin our work towards Burns’ Night immediately after the Xmas decorations come down!

“Both events give you a great opportunity to decorate the venue again, but what’s the point in doing all that work for a couple of days? The longer the better! It gets everyone in the mood and prepares customers for what’s coming.”

HaggisMenu choices

The Burns’ menu at Cheers usually lasts the whole week with the Valentine’s offer lasting the weekend, or longer depending on which day of the week the 14 February is. However, always mindful of his regular customers, Dennis ensures that a ‘normal’ menu is also available. Alongside the traditional Burns’ main course of Haggis, Mince, Neeps and Mashed potatoes, alternatives will be available including Tempura Battered Haddock and Balmoral Chicken.

“For Burns’ Night this year, we’ve decided to have a battered Mars bar dessert with locally produced ice cream and our very own butterscotch sauce with finely grated chocolate. For a starter our chef is preparing his own individual mini Scotch pies. VisitScotland is promoting all things good about Scottish food and drink in 2015, so we will be jumping on board this initiative and creating loads of traditional Scottish courses with a wee spin to them. We’ll use January as a starting point.”

FemaleDuoGreat entertainment

“When it comes to Valentine’s Day, we like to keep the menu simple and, as always, offer great value for money,” says Dennis. “Our aim is to encourage our diners to stay the evening and enjoy the entertainment provided, which will be a female duo in our large dining conservatory (Friday & Saturday), Valentine’s disco in the main bar and karaoke in our snug bar. The entertainment will also attract diners from other food operators nearby.

“We will also provide entertainment on Burns’ weekend, but not on the 25th, which is a Sunday this year. Instead, on that day we will promote the big Sunday football matches. Sport is quite big with us.”

MixerWet offering

“We will obviously have a few nice Champagnes on offer for Valentine’s, but it will be our cocktails and spirits we will be pushing for both events,” declares Dennis. “We have over 600 spirits (including over 200 whiskies) and were recent runners-up in the GB Pub awards for Best Spirits Pub. We’ll have several malts of the week in January and on Burns’ weekend there will be around 12 to try. We’re also offering our very own Scottish bomb for the party animals, which is Drambuie liqueur with Irn Bru – served in a bomb glass. Tam o’ shanter cocktails and whisky sour will also be popular. Valentine’s drinkers are likely to enjoy sharing one or two of our many cocktail jugs and shooters, which will be heavily promoted coming up to the event.”


Cheers has a large weekly advert in three local newspapers and daily spots on its local radio station. In addition, the radio station has a competition with the prize being a meal for two for one of the events.

In-house, all events are publicised on the venue’s numerous big screens; A3 posters are put up in the toilets beside the hand dryers; and individual A4 menus are laminated and placed in menu holders on every table a month in advance.

GlenFiddichMaking the most of social media

“One of our most successful promotions is through social media,” observes Dennis. “For instance, this January we will take a photo of a bottle of malt whisky with haggis crisps placed around it and ask our customers to guess the number of crisps; everyone guessing correctly will go into a draw to see who wins the bottle.

“But for this to be an effective marketing tool, people must be encouraged to LIKE and, more importantly, SHARE the post. Why? Because tagged on to the post will be the Burns’ Supper menu, the Malts of the month and what entertainment is provided. If done correctly, hundreds will share the post and the reach will be into the 1000s. Great free advertising!

“Something similar will be done for Valentine’s, but with Champagne or dinner-for-two vouchers. The good thing is, we often get the whisky and Champagne bottles for free as we are promoting them effectively for the reps.”

The team at The Truscott Arms is still basking in the warm glow of success for, in October, the pub garnered the title of Britain’s Best Roast Dinner 2014*. In spite of the ensuing whirlwind activity and 50% increase in revenue, owner Andrew Fishwick has not taken his eye off the ball; each and every calendar event provides another way of promoting his stablishment and driving yet more footfall.

Forward planning

The next challenge for the Truscott Arms is to maintain momentum in 2015. Andrew has been carefully planning for weeks now and has plenty in hand to start the New Year off with a bang.

For the second year in a row, the pub will be holding a Burn’s Night event with a special, traditional Scottish menu including haggis, tatties and neeps along with a whisky tasting menu. To add a further touch of authenticity, a well-known Scottish comedian will be on hand to give the traditional Scottish toasts, ‘ode to the haggis’ and the ‘ode to the lasses’.

Andrew explains: “Burn’s night south of the border is definitely becoming more popular if you do it well. It’s like any other event really – if you do something different and interestingly enough, people will come along. Having a host who is Scottish works nicely as well.”

In addition, Andrew is working with his head chef to finalise a special Valentine’s Menu. “Last year we created a special ‘love’ menu,” says Andrew, “and had lots of tables for two. It worked really well and sold out way in advance.”

Beef Roast Truscott ArmsGetting it right on

Burns’ Night and other calendar events “Themed evenings work really well to make your pub stand out from your competitors, both in the local area and beyond,” advises Andrew. “In addition to our special calendar events we have regular film nights and quiz nights every Monday.

“These make visiting our pub an experience. People want something different – they want to be entertained. It gives them a reason to come to our pub and not go somewhere else. We hold many of these evenings during non-traditional eating out times, such as Mondays and Tuesdays, to keep the pub busy throughout the week.”

Andrew also urges operators not to limit their pubs to calendar events: “For example, twice a year, at Christmas and in Spring, we run ‘Eating Sound’ evenings. Our head chef works with a composer and they come up with a menu. Then the composer creates an original score for the night, which is played on the night by a chamber orchestra.”

While not everyone may be able to source their very own chamber orchestra, the message is clear: think long and hard outside the box where your competitors are probably found and reap the benefits.

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