Gamecock Inn, Austwick – Meet the Thwaites Pub of the Year 2019

31st January 2020

We recently visited the Gamecock Inn pub, in the Yorkshire village of Austwick to talk with Eric and Maree, the Thwaites Award winners and current holders of the Thwaites Pub of the Year 2019. We talked about everything from winning awards, the highlights of the previous year, general pub life and what’s ahead for 2020. With a mixture of British and French flair, it’s a pub with great character, warmth and a uniqueness that understandably makes it a worthy Thwaites Pub of the Year Winner.
We started our chat by discussing the impressive win and how Eric and Maree are going to carry this forward.

How does it feel to be awarded and named Thwaites Pub of the Year?

It’s a huge honour to receive this award. After being in the Gamecock for thirteen years, it’s a lovely recognition, and we’re so happy and proud. For Thwaites to recognise the amount of work that has gone into making the Gamecock a success and the continued work that we pride ourselves on has made it worthwhile.

How do you think this will help your pub?

Well, it’s been a massive incentive to push on and be even better, motivating the whole team to keep our winning standards high. Hopefully, with such an award and having it out there on Facebook, it’ll make more people want to come and visit the Gamecock – it’s a fantastic advertisement for the pub.


How have your customers responded to the win?

They’ve been so supportive and are genuinely happy and pleased for us. It’s a real family community here and they understand and see the hard work that we’ve put in and built up over the years. They’re definitely proud of their pub, rooting for us all the way, so it was extra special to bring home the win.
We then moved on to how their previous year went and all the planning that goes into the reflective process. All before moving on to what 2020 is looking like for the Gamecock.

What have been your stand out moments of 2019?

It’s been by far our busiest year, and most successful, seeing us serve 3,500 meals a month for the 6-month seasonal period over summer. It’s been intense but amazing to see so much love and appreciation for Eric and the team’s cooking. It’s been an excellent year for all the team with everyone developing and becoming advocates of our high standards. It’s the strongest team we’ve ever had and the atmosphere in the pub reflects this.


What were your goals and priorities for 2019?

After winning the Best Hospitality Award at the 2018 Thwaites Pub Awards, we came away and knew that we wanted to win the Pub of the Year at the next awards. We wanted to win by staying true to ourselves and remembering what the Gamecock is all about – great food, excellent service and the best pub atmosphere. That was a big goal.
When it came to our food, Eric returned to the kitchen as Head Chef, continuing to make the menu and dishes better and better. It’s great for the team as there’s a renewed passion. Another area we’ve tackled and are continuing to manage is the big push on food waste. We’re passionate about using as much, if not all parts, of the food we use.
We have a great team, and we’d say a goal was to push and celebrate them. Being so close we encourage a bit a fun competition and up-selling between the team to drive sales. It’s a fun way to build team spirit, and we also get them to taste the new dishes on the menus so that they have a personal approach and can talk through the specials with customers. It’s been an excellent way for the team to become more confident and knowledgeable.

Did you have a plan of how to achieve them?

It’s always hard to have a set plan as we’re in an industry that requires you to be able to change quickly. You’ve got to know what works and stick with it, but also be willing to try new things and bring different offerings. We’re not ones to write down a specific plan, but having small ongoing projects and trying new things as the year progresses works well for us.
You can’t second guess what’s going to happen or what’s going to work. Between ourselves, we know what we want to achieve and how we keep the pub going in the right direction. Of course, our customers always come top when thinking of making changes. We’re always considering how to bring more people to the Gamecock and ultimately making them returning regulars.


What are your plans for 2020?

We’ve got lots to look forward to and plenty of planning going ahead. From utilising our beer garden space so that it has year-round use, maintaining and developing our weekly nights, taking part in local events and hopefully bringing back our famous Halloween charity event. If you’re in charge of your own business, you’ve got to be aware of what’s happening with the political uncertainty and keep up to date.
We’re aware of the rise of people choosing to holiday in the UK and with our excellent countryside location we’re trying to capitalise on this. With two campsites nearby, which are all year round, we want to get the Gamecock name out there. This will help our plans for increasing people finding out and experiencing the pub, and we’ve already had great support from the campsites, so it’s building on the relationship. Carrying on with winning awards is always lovely and a great thing to aim for as well. So yes, plenty to keep us busy; it’s exciting!
Finally, we discussed life in a pub and what really needs to happen and what kind of person you need to be, to not only live the lifestyle but run and maintain a successful business.

What is your attitude and approach for running your pub?

Your heart has to be in the business from the get-go. Set out with a clear ambition and drive to make the pub better and be open to constant learning. The fact that we’re a family running the pub has been the best for us and helped in building up the Gamecock’s excellent reputation, strengthening our business minds, dealing with the changing times and long hours.


What do you think sets you apart and makes you stand out?

It’s got to be our great mixture of France and Britain, not only in our food serving but also our excellent team. We bring the very traditional parts of both cultures, creating our unique offering here at the Gamecock.
The food component is integral to us, especially Eric, and we’ve tailored and created menus that offer a unique selling point to customers through the seasonality of the dishes to locally sourcing meat from the butcher for that farm to fork service. We also get fruit and vegetables from Settle market, so customers know where their food is from and that someone with passion cooks it.
Our bespoke French night is super popular, and it’s great to see our customers arriving and interested in trying the menu, with the French onion soup, beef bourguignon and parmentier de canard confit the most popular dishes.
The pub hasn’t had a major refurbishment, but has been updated little and often and we know this has helped keep its character. Doing it this way we’ve not lost any of the charm and with the atmosphere being so important to our customers and us this is great. We’ve learnt that the little touches, and doing them well, make the biggest impact.

Offering drinks, food and rooms you’re a pub that does it all. How do you tackle and assess each area for improvement?

You’ve got to approach them all with the same mentality and know that they all go together and deserve equal attention. We’re continually thinking of the journey for our customers and the different elements that make this up, whether it’s an evening meal or a night’s sleep and they’re spending longer in the business. Being able to offer a full package pushes the pub to the next level.


Your Social Media Presence Is A Great Example Of How A Pub Can Use It Well – How Do You Approach It And Manage The Varied Reactions You Receive?

It’s an excellent tool to use, to not only be more personal with our customers but also great to get instant news about the pub out there. We upload as and when, but we’re continually capturing moments and pictures, thinking about something different to post about, so our feed is unique and varied. We’ve got a real mix from food, events, our location, and offers, which is definitely leading to more interaction.
It’s great to receive the helpful, positive feedback, but you’ve got to be ready to address anything that might be less favourable. We’d recommend always responding to both the good and bad, as you never know, you might get the chance to re-engage visitors. Take every opportunity to increase your customer base and keep their faith. Having this attitude has helped our pub go from strength to strength.

What would be your greatest three tips for other tenants just starting their pub journey?

1. Be persistent – you can’t give up at the first hurdle, as there will be plenty of challenges, but sticking with it you’ll get to a place of success.
2. Never take anything for granted – it’s a full-on role, and the learning curve can be huge. So, it’s important to adapt quickly, be open to gaining more knowledge and be prepared.
3. Celebrate and develop your team – make it into a family and be supportive; champion your team – trust is a huge factor.
The Gamecock Inn is a great country pub, a place of good cheer, pints, glorious food and roaring log fires. It’s a pub that’s charming, characterful and deserving of such an accolade.