Industry Learnings from The Plough Inn on Southbank Brisbane

Posted by Max Hitchins on

I thought we’d share a story from one of our eBook purchasers, Jason Sheather, a successful pub owner and founder of the Beer Deluxe brand.

A note to say congratulations on your Post Pandemic Thinking eBook. I bought it as soon as I saw the index page. So many great stories and examples. I’d like to share with you some examples of how we are on the ‘same page’ with you and with so many of the examples in your new eBook. 

In 2017, we acquired The Plough Inn on Southbank Brisbane, which first opened in 1885. The venue boasts a long-established reputation as one of Brisbane’s most vibrant and successful entertainment venues. It offers first class facilities including a large outdoor deck overlooking the Brisbane River and CBD and a beer garden complete with stage for live music events and festivals. The hotel’s premium location amongst the parklands of Brisbane’s South Bank enables it to draw on trade from locals and the many tourists who visit the precinct each year.

Prior to Covid-19, the venue was trading well, however our patrons ordered their meals from a line-up bistro style till, were provided an electronic buzzer and then collected their own meals (challenging if you were dining on the Level 1 deck). Being a large venue, peak service times were challenging. When the pandemic hit, we used the opportunity to improve the venue structurally and from a service perspective, something we had always wanted to do. So, we installed a dumb waiter (to the 1st floor), reworked the kitchen to be more efficient, and installed a pizza oven. We replaced the buzzers with table service, reduced the menu size which has enhanced the customer experience and significantly reduced meal wait times. In addition, we replaced old menu boards for modern screens, displaying menus and on-going promotions. 

Having completed the structural changes over lock down, our focus then shifted to operational improvements. In addition to the mandatory Covid requirements, here are some further initiatives:

“Cash is king” … but, we believe, today ‘data is power”!

I particularly like your focus on the importance of Data in Post Pandemic Thinking. The Trent Zimmermann story; Database Strategies; Family Day; Teachers Day and Marriage Day all offers to opportunities to use and expand our database. They say, “Cash is king” … but, we believe, today “Data is power”! We believe the post-pandemic success will be driven by engaged customers and engaged employees. We are measuring the quality of our customers’ and staff experiences. It’s important now more than ever to have regular systematic data from your venues financial reporting systems (daily, weekly, monthly), as well as customers and employee data from which you can receive feedback and make decisions.

“Well trained staff have a better chance of ensuring customers leave happy!”

For example; we have introduced a secret shopper program which provides us with a Net Promoter Score each month we pay close attention to on-line reviews, aggregating reviews from on-line sites collating a live score. Increased focus on training and staff engagement. It was a massive change converting to table service for The Plough Inn. We utilised a CUB initiative when they recently partnered with global training organisation Typsy, which has great simple on-line training library. The modules completed by staff now form part of our employee benefit program. Furthermore, we are increasingly sharing data and have staff drive venue goal setting. We are in the process of expanding our staff satisfaction survey and conducting exit interviews, as a means of gathering more feedback.

We live in challenging times and stressed people will complain more, so more engaged, well trained staff have a better chance of ensuring customers leave happy!

With restricted numbers due to Covid, one of our current key focuses is on tracking and increasing spend per head. Up-selling and add-on selling. For example, currently we are considering how to improve our dessert menu, even something basic like trialling selling ice creams over the coming warmer months.

“We have tried not to waste a crisis as it offers opportunities! We have tried to run lean, drive efficiencies and innovation..”

Something that has worked well recently at the Plough Inn (and regularly mentioned in our customer feedback surveys), was the introduction of a maître d' to meet and greet patrons, direct seating and advise daily specials. The customers’ lasting experience is finished with a “Goodbye… have a great day… I hope you enjoyed your time”.

In simple terms, like you, we have tried not to waste a crisis as it offers opportunities! We have tried to run lean, drive efficiencies and innovation and outsource what we could, as well as improve our service and quality of data from venue reporting to customer and staff feedback. 

Finally, we believe, in post pandemic times, the key to success will be all about creating experiences and memories for our customers. Covid has enabled people to expand their home cooking repertoire. In addition, with shows like MasterChef and MKR, everyone’s increasingly a critic and consumers are seeking better value for money, so quality food and beverage offerings in a safe environment will attract demand. Food done great (not just good) at great value is paramount. Strive to achieve the customers perception of value for money whilst maximising head spend.

About the owner

Jason Sheather

Director, Open Arms Hospitality

Jason Sheather, left, and Craig Shearer 


He studied a Bachelor of Business, Economics and Finance at RMIT and completed a Post-Grad in Finance before undertaking on a business banking career. His good friend and now business partner, Craig Shearer presented him with the opportunity to buy into The New Albury Hotel with him in 2009. This then embarked him on his hospitality industry journey.

Open Arms Hospitality Group (Previously Armada Hospitality) was formed in 2010 by Jason and business partner Craig Shearer, specialising in ‘management service solutions’ for the hospitality industry. Over the following years, they went on to acquire venues and create their own brand, “Beer Deluxe”, which targeted the ever-growing demand for quality beer.

In 2016, their portfolio of venues was acquired by the Australian Venue Company (AVC), but left them with Public House Albury and a greenfield site in Eagle Street Pier in Brisbane which they then went on to develop, offering a food court of street vendors and bar overlooking the Brisbane River. AVC subsequently purchased Riverland in 2019. Public House was also sold in December 2019, proving to be extremely timely (certainly more luck than skill), given the pandemic that exploded into the industry and lives of many.

Post Pandemic Thinking - for Hospitality and Tourism

With our eBook for Post Pandemic Thinking, we've taken time to think for you with this publication

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →