They started arriving at 7.45am, the Bank Holiday revellers, even though we weren’t opening until 12pm. They circled the village for hours, congregating in the garden to bagsy a table (the number of which they would fail to note when they finally got to order food, despite having sat there for two hours) and mutter loudly about how stupid it is that a pub wouldn’t be open for breakfast. The car park filled up. The field filled up. Staff struggled to get into the building without being accosted.
When, at last, 15 minutes prior to the advertised midday opening we flung open the doors, near enough 100 people sprint-walked inside. One man yanked the actual door out of my hand as I tried to open it. This was theirbank holiday and by golly, they were not going to be stopped. Nine members of staff lined up like they were facing the firing squad as the queue snaked its way around both bars and out of the front door on to the patio. The check machine in the kitchen started going beserk as 20 orders hit the pass before the clock had even reached 12.03pm.
We continued at this pace for the next five hours. The queue dissipated enough to be contained within the actual pub, but the revellers didn’t stop coming. In the rush to make the most of theirbank holiday, folks abandoned their cars and blocked others in, causing the most middle class outrage you’ve ever seen. The hours ticked by and the checks wracked up.
Those without eyes in their head were shocked to hear that they would have to wait for their food, presumably thinking that the 300 people surrounding them had only come for their company, and not to eat.
Onwards. Yes, we do need your table number. No, we’ve never seen it this busy either. Yes, you can have sweet potato fries instead of normal chips. Would you like ice with that? Yes, these four ales are all we have. No, we can’t reserve a table for you outside. Have you got a table number? Yes, it is hot today. No, I haven’t seen where you left your sunglasses.
2pm, 3pm, 4pm…
The sun beat relentlessly down. Strap marks turned into bright red shoulders. Men at the bar with sunglasses on their heads didn’t know that they’d left white goggles on their eyes. Children careering around the playground looked like they might melt at any second. The sensible ones created shade forts with parasols. The wreckless ones tried to take off their tops (we’ll have none of that in Lowsonford, thankyouverymuch).
And still they came. No sooner than one family piled into a boiling vehicle and yelped with pain as their bare legs hit the hot leather seats, than another one appeared to take their place. They gawped at the scenery, meandered along the canal and searched, fruitlessly for somewhere to sit.
The cider flowed. The ice cream sales went through the roof. No member of staff dared even nip to the loo let alone contemplate a break. Back and forth across the length of the garden, trying valiantly to replenish the glass shelves. Back and forth across the garden, trying desperately to clear plates as quickly as people switched tables. Beads of sweat from our brows, our backs and just about every part of our body you don’t want to imagine.
5pm. Nothing left to sell in the kitchen apart from the chefs themselves (and frankly, by that point, we’d have struggled to have got a tenner for the sorry, sweaty lot of them). Those arriving for evening meals hooted in astonishment that we had closed the kitchen, having failed to look up our Bank Holiday times. No wonder, crowed one person, that pubs are closing at such a rate when they don’t even stay open on theirbank holidays. They sniffed and left, oblivious the the 200 people who were sitting outside or the 400 other who had preceded them.
We smiled. We sighed. We finally went to the loo.
The plates continued to go out. Pies, burgers, salads all marching across the garden as we caught up on the backlog. Those who had screamed with fury earlier in the day that their food hadn’t come out on time or that we’d ruinedthe day for them by not giving them what they wanted seemed to slip from memory. Replaced, instead, by the utterly content and slightly tipsy patrons who had whiled away the whole afternoon and only had nice things to say. The ones who told us to keep up the good work and thanked us for a beautiful day and suggested we all deserved the next day off.
The sun started to slip into the distance. The team dispatched to the furthest reaches of the premises to start the big tidy up. Our legs hurt, our backs hurt, our feet hurt. Our brains had ceased to exist. Like robots we collected glasses & plates, washed up, dried up, put away, tidied up and shut up. It was nearly over. And we’d survived.
The cars dwindled. The field emptied, the car park cleared. The last few revellers languishing in the sunset disappeared. We put the pub back into order, replacing chairs and cushions and where had all the salt and pepper shakers gone? Didn’t matter. Staff drinks. Ice baths for feet. Get those last tables cleared and get to bed.
When all was said and done, there was no way to officially count how many people passed through the Fleur on May Bank Holiday Monday. We know for sure that we sold over 500 proper main meals. Add on the ones who were just drinking, or had snacks, or shared a starter and a bowl of chips. 600 or more maybe? Almost certainly the most we’ve ever had. In five short hours of food service.
We looked battle worn. We felt worse. 28,000+ steps on the old stepometer app suggested 16km of activity. But as we closed the doors and bid the team goodnight, we knew that we had achieved our most successful day in four years and that was no mean feat.
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Slowly but surely you helped to breathe life back into the place. You filled it up with love and laughter. You have dragged it back from obscurity to place it back into the heart of the community.
Like so many others, we got into this trade because we love sharing these little boltholes with others and watching you enjoy them and make memories to cherish between these walls. We do it because we like a bit of banter whilst pouring a beer. We’ve always believed in doing the best we can with the circumstances we’ve got.
Time to whip up a quick homemade soup with whatever veggies you’ve got in your fridge.