Coronavirus crisis: How Rutland's oldest inn is fighting back as a take-away

  Posted: 23.04.20 at 14:34 by The Editor

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It’s Rutland’s oldest inn and a home of of hospitality for almost 400 years.

Now, The Blue Ball at Braunston has relaunched itself as a take-away, but offering ‘proper’ pub grub cooked fresh to order, using seasonal, local produce.

Landlord Dominic Way told Oakham Nub News: “All our takeaways are prepared cooked by our two chefs in our Pub Kitchen. What makes us special is our quality and attention to detail. Even our chips hand cut by us from potatoes. We even make delicious handmade chocolates to takeaway.”

The Blue Ball began offering take-aways last month when it realised the “writing was in the wall” for pubs, restaurants and cafes.

It quickly added deliveries as so many people were self-isolating or had caring responsibilities.

The range includes mains, sides and desserts to suit all tastes and ages, including older people, children, couples, vegetarians, vegans and those seeking gluten free.

Safety is promised with contactless payment, or over the phone, safe collection from the pub’s porch or there is free delivery within four miles, where the food is placed on the doorstep, the doorbell is rung and a staff member stands well back to ensure the customer picks up their order.

Dominic continued: “The big thing for us that there is no drop in quality just because we’ve moved to a takeaway/delivery model. We still make all our own burgers, batter our own fish and onion rings, and use sirloin beef for our roasts, along with lamb, pork and nut roasts, and make our own duck fat roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and gravy. With vegetarian roast potatoes and vegetarian/gluten free gravy also available.

“We offer six chefs burgers, including a beef burger, a crispy duck burger, a chicken burger, a fish burger, a halloumi and mushroom burger and a butternut squash burger. We even make our own beer batter for our fish goujons and onion rings. We don’t cut corners or serve food full of flavourings, additives or preservatives.

“Our Thai curries (veggie, prawn or chicken) with jasmine rice are an ongoing favourite. As are our Sunday roasts. Game casserole with creamy mash, beef stroganoff pie and sausages and mash are unusual for a takeaway.

“Our handmade chocolates and also our chocolate brownies are proving a hit. And, of course, all our burgers and handcut chips of sweet potato fries.

Dominic says staff safety is paramount and the pub is blessed with plenty of room, including a large catering kitchen so six staff can socially distance whilst working.

“Rigorous food safety and hygiene practices are all in place including the more obvious things such as regular hand washing. We use World Health Organisation standard alcohol hand rub (from a local lab) and medical grade sprays to wipe down our card payment machine, till, telephones and iPads etc.

“When delivering, we keep hand sanitiser and gloves in each vehicle used and all staff are aware of the need to monitor their own health and temperatures and stay home should any symptoms develop, even a sniffle. So far, no one has become ill. If they do, we would review everything, including whether we need to close for a while until certain it’s safe to proceed."

Dominic says it hasn’t been easy changing the pub’s business model, but it was done by starting early and working as a team until well into the night.

He explained: “One benefit of being a single, small business is that we’ve been agile - able to to hammer out and agree and cost up our menu options and design, and check supply lines and then just crack in with it.

“Our chefs have been fantastic and flexible and one of them has a graphics that helped with bashing out our initial menu flyer layout and design and printing them off ourselves, before we were able to get proper ones printed. We knew that we had to act fast and professionally and get the message out there quickly.

“We were already across all social media and direct marketing and have a VIP list of over 1800 and almost 2000 Facebook followers , so that was crucial too. But we needed to have flyers to let those people who aren’t glued to their smart phones know what we were offering.

“We were all clear that we wanted to help those who were self-isolating or shielding so we set our minimum delivery charge at £12 so that someone home alone could order a decent meal without pushing the boat out and have it safely delivered.”

Such publicity has helped drum up trade, and villagers gave further support by buying Pay It Forward Vouchers to ease initial cashflow issues after the collapse of anticipated trading over the usually busy Mother’s Day and Easter weekend. Many also ordered takeaways straight away.

Dominic continued: “But we couldn’t survive just on the goodwill of our friends and neighbours, even though we’re also supplying villagers with basic provisions (meat, fruit, veg, eggs, milk, bread, butter), largely at cost.

“For our survival strategy to work, we needed to reach beyond the village where we live and work. We still need more orders, especially Wed-Sat and at the earlier times. We’re now offering 10% off takeaway food orders for collection from 4.30- 5.30pm on these days. People just need to quote “Early Bird Offer”, which should suit those with families wishing to eat earlier.”

With the lockdown now extended for a further three weeks and government talking of pubs and restaurants being the ‘last’ to re-open, Dominic says it is too soon to say how the business will look after the lockdown but he is already planning ahead.

He said: “We will continue to offer takeaways but probably a slimmed down take-away menu, alongside in-house dining. Some people will remain very wary and no one will want to sit or socialise cheek by jowl with strangers.

“The takeaways also provide a more cost-effective way of treating yourself or your family. But some people will want a change from being at home and to enjoy eating out in a comfortable yet controlled atmospheric environment.

“We plan to make it possible for them to do so without having to worry about crowding or lack of due care and consideration. So we’ve been busy deep cleaning and expanding and reconfiguring our Bar area, so that people can sit well apart when they come in for drink or to wait for their takeaways.

“We previously had just one semi-private dining table. We will have three when we reopen plus all dining tables will be thinned/spaced out to allow social distancing. There will be no need to order at the bar. In this way, couples, families or friends may enjoy eating out together without feeling concerned or uncomfortable.”

Furthermore, menus will be disposable and the pub will no longer use salt and pepper grinders or sugar bowls but individual pots or sachets.

If the lockdown continues for several months or more, The Blue Ball will look at becoming a ‘proper’ pub shop providing essential provisions for collection or delivery slots.

Dominic explained: “We started out with a six-week survival strategy. Things are changing all the time and are as yet uncertain but we will regularly review and adapt what we offer to meet all compliance and customer concerns. We plan to stay steady and flexible and support those who’ve supported us.”

He added: “It won’t be easy for any business to weather the existing and envisigable issues. We do need more takeaway orders as well as more Pay It Forward Voucher Sales to ensure that we can pay our remaining staff and suppliers. Think of it as getting a round or meal “in” to enjoy later.”

The Blue Ball
Wed-Sat Menu 4-9pm
Sun Menu 12-4pm
To order:
TEXT 07377 954176
CALL 01572 722135
EMAIL [email protected]

Safe payment and collection or doorstep delivery (free within 4 miles/delivery charge beyond 4 miles)

Order early or in advance to avoid disappointment and secure your preferred collection/delivery time slot.

Buy a voucher from Save Pub Life to use when we reopen and attract matching amount as a donationfrom Budweiser Brewing Group.

If you run a business that has had to transform itself for these challenging times, please email your contact details and say a bit about yourself to [email protected]

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