Holly Eggleton, Front of House Manager, The Pony and Trap

The  Staff Canteen
Ten years ago Holly Eggleton and her brother Josh took over The Pony and Trap near Bristol making Josh one of the youngest pub and restaurant proprietors in the country. With the backing of their family they have been running the gastropub in the picturesque village of Chew Magna ever since earning numerous accolades and awards including a Michelin star in 2011 which it still holds today. When they relaunched The Pony and Trap, Holly was a mere 19 years old when she took on the fundamental position of Front of House Manager. Aside from greeting guests and catering to their every whim, Holly also manages the events catering business which incorporates around 25 weddings, private and corporate events each year. In 2014 Holly’s achievements were recognised with the Publican Morning Advertiser naming her Front of House Manager of the Year in the Top 50 Gastropub awards. The Staff Canteen spoke to Holly about keeping it in the family, why she trusts her own judgement and why you don’t need a gym membership if you want a career working front of house! Holly and Josh EggletonYou took over The Pony and Trap with your family when you were just 19, was that when you first got into the industry? No I went into the industry when I was 16/17 as a part time job whilst I was doing my A levels at a local pub/restaurant within the Chew Magna area so not far away from the Pony as we grew up here and went to school here. I worked part time there and then when I finished my A levels I worked full time over the summer and then went to work for Hotel du vin & Bistro. Was that something you always knew you were going to go into? No I don’t think I knew right from that beginning, I knew that I enjoyed working at the local pub and restaurant. It was a busy place, we did 100 covers in the evening. I really enjoyed it and it gave me a bit more confidence because you learn to talk to adults and to interact so it made me grow up a little bit. I said to Josh I’m really enjoying it and when we came home we would talk about how many covers we'd done.

>>> Read: Josh Eggleton, The Pony and Trap, Bristol

He was working in a really small restaurant in Bristol and their busy night was 45-50 covers. I would walk in and say well I’ve just done 110 and he would always go, oh what! Obviously mine was on a completely different scale because it was a bigger team. He always said that he wanted something local within this area and I said well I can do front of house and you can do the kitchen and he was like yeah ok you need to get more experience.holly quote So I went to Hotel du vin & Bistro - I worked in functions helping to look after weddings, business breakfasts and different lunches. Six months later we viewed The Pony and Trap and that’s when it began. How do you find running the pub with your brother? Really good, I think we have the same thought process and same drive, we’ve both got so much ambition. I don’t think we realised just how big it was going to become when we first took over in 2006, we just wanted to serve really good food in a nice environment in the place where we grew up. Every day we push forward and we haven’t stopped pushing from day one. We have a really strong bond, I’m not going to lie, it’s not a bed of roses, everyone has their ups and downs but blood’s thicker than water. It’s because we believe in ourselves, I believe in him and he believes in me so we keep on going.
Top five service experiences: Casamia Restaurant, Bristol – very knowledgeable and the new fit is fab The Pig Hotel, Bath – really lovely service and nice atmosphere The Coach, Marlow – They were very good Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, Port Issac – Amazing, I want to go back again The Manor House, Cotswolds – It was really lovely and delicious food
Do you often feel that the front of house is sometimes overshadowed by the kitchen? No, not really. We’re one team, we can’t do one without the other. This place wouldn’t function without front of house and it wouldn’t function without the kitchen, or the cleaner that comes in at 6am and the KP’s and the gardener and the maintenance man who came to fix the boiler yesterday. I know the food has a lot of emphasis on why people like to come here but I also think they like to come because they really enjoy the atmosphere that’s created by our front of house team. How did it feel to win Front of House Manager of the Year in the Top 50 Gastropub Awards in 2014? It was pretty amazing, obviously it’s not just for me, it’s for the whole team, I can’t do this on my own. I can’t be here seven days a week, 24 hours a day, I have to be able to rely on my managers and my supervisors and the waiting staff. They are all fab, so it’s good recognition for those guys as well. Pony & Trap interior low resHow has it encouraged you in your role?  It gives you a little boost of confidence. It makes you still believe in yourself because sometimes you do have those days where you think’ what am I doing’ and everyone has those days whatever job role they may be in. So it makes you believe in what you’re doing and you have to believe in yourself and stick to your guns. It does give you a confidence boost and it gives the front of house a confidence boost as well, they were so pleased for me winning, they were over the moon which is great. How important is it to retain some of the key skills such as table service in the restaurant rather than just having everything plated? Really important, we don’t do silver service or anything like that here so most things are plated. Obviously it’s important to be able to judge how much service people want because some people want your full attention for the whole evening and they really want to engage with you and others just want a really relaxed moment. Sometimes they just want a bottle of wine and just want to talk to each other which is great but it’s important to be able to judge that. I read that you take on apprentices at The Pony and Trap, what do they learn from their time with you at the pub? I love having an apprentice whether it’s out the front or in the kitchen. I love training people and teaching them new skills. I love showing them everything I never learnt, yes I worked in the hotel but I was very young when I took on this place and had to teach myself a lot. I like giving something back and  I’ve had three apprentices out the front and they have all gone off and into the trade.espresso martini low res They learn about good friendly service, ingredients and dishes and how they’re prepared, they learn how the kitchen works and critical timing skills to juggle different tables coming in at different times. They learn about working in a high pressured environment and how to keep a smile on their face because you know you have to get the next table’s order but you’re still taking orders and it’s a really difficult thing to do. When an apprentice comes to me I don’t leave them alone! I feel like it’s just giving something back, it’s good to see them learn and then go off and do it on their own. How important is training for you and your staff? It’s really important, if my staff don’t know things or can’t answer certain questions or make mistakes, it’s my fault. It means I’ve lacked in not telling them in the correct way. So we’re training all the time, it never stops, I’m always learning, I don’t know everything in this trade, I’m going out dining at different places and trying to learn off of other people. What are your thoughts on customers taking photo's during a meal or at the bar? I don’t mind at all, we pride ourselves on our presentation and if people want to make some memories then that’s great. I think we are all very guilty of it. You have a certificate of excellence on Tripadvisor and are rated number 1 of 5 restaurants in Chew Magna but what is your overall opinion on online review sites? As a rule I don’t really look at Tripadvisor. The front of house team do but when I go to stay in a hotel or go out to a restaurant I don’t really go on Tripadvisor because I’m quite happy to make my own judgement. Everyone has their own opinion and different tastes and everything is an objective. When people do write really lovely reviews to say they’ve had a nice time here then that’s great, if people write not so positive things I do wish sometimes they would come to me directly so I can rectify it. I think it’s a double edged sword. Summer dish at The Pony & Trap low resWhat's been the most difficult customer you've ever dealt with?  I wouldn’t really say I have a difficult customer that sticks out. In your opinion what do you think makes ‘good customer service’? I would say welcoming, really polite, knowledgeable and enjoying what you’re doing. It always comes across if you’re happy being in the environment that you’re in because if the staff are happy than the customers are happy. I think it’s really important to treat people the way you would like to be treated. I think that is what makes good customer service. What advice would you give to anyone thinking of embarking on a career in food service? Definitely give up your gym membership because you’ll have no time and you will be running! Just make sure you have the drive and the passion and you believe in yourself and what you do, and you will meet some fab people along the way. I would definitely encourage people to come into this industry. I love it but of course it’s not always a bed of roses, it is hard at times. It is also very rewarding, every time someone leaves saying they had a lovely time or it’s someone’s wedding anniversary you think, there you go, that’s why I do this.  
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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th February 2016

Holly Eggleton, Front of House Manager, The Pony and Trap