FEMAIL puts the ‘pub desk’ to the test

Could the local become YOUR office? Femail writer tests out new £10 pub package with free WIFI, unlimited hot drinks and lunch as hospitality industry desperately tries to diversify

  • Jacqueline Steele spent a day working at The Crown & Horns, in East Illsley
  • Pub charges £10 for a table with plug socket, wifi, unlimited tea and a sandwich 
  • Hospitality industry hopes concept will encourage visitors in the Covid-19 age 

Working from home may have become the new normal, but it can be quite isolating and, frankly, boring, without the usual interactions of an office environment.

Now the hospitality industry is introducing a new concept to get people through the door in the Covid-19 age – the ‘pub desk’.

The Crown & Horns, in East Ilsley, Berkshire, is one of dozens of venues across the country testing out this new concept to get punters through the door.

For landlords, it offers the chance to begin to make up for lost revenue during the pandemic and more recently with the new 10pm curfew in England.

For £10 you get a table next to a plug socket, wifi, unlimited tea and coffee and a sandwich.

Here, writer Jacqueline Steele reveals what it’s like to relocate from her home office to the local pub for the day.

Jacqueline Steele tested the 'pub desk' concept on offer at The Crown & Horns, in East Illsley. Pictured left: Jacqueline, Pictured right: Kadi Pariis, the director and practice manager of Gecko Fitness

Jacqueline Steele tested the ‘pub desk’ concept on offer at The Crown & Horns, in East Illsley. Pictured left: Jacqueline, Pictured right: Kadi Pariis, the director and practice manager of Gecko Fitness

The four walls of my home study have become very familiar over the past few months. And now the kids are back at school, the house is extremely quiet. The perfect working environment you might think, but sometimes you need a change of scenery.

So armed with my laptop, phone and a notepad, I headed to my local pub in West Berkshire at midday on a Monday to try out a ‘pub desk’.

Sat in a quiet corner of the country inn, I plugged my Mac into the mains and easily accessed the powerful wifi. There’s also tables available in the attractive beer garden complete with palms, lights and colourful furniture in a heated marquee.

It made a pleasant change to have coffee brought to my desk by friendly bar supervisor Claire Mumford, who wore a mask. Staff were very attentive, keeping my coffee cup full while I typed away.

Claire, who’s been working at the Crown on-and-off for more than 30 years, said it’s been a tough year for the industry, particularly village pubs.

‘It’s been a really hard year for everyone. But we’ve got to think out of the box and come up with innovative ideas to get people back to the pub.

‘It must be really difficult for families trying to work from home with all the distractions. Offering the ‘pub desk’ separates work and home again. It gives people a break. People have said that the creative juices start to flow again.

Crown employee Claire, revealed the 'pub desk' concept has been working well because around 60 per cent of people in the area haven't returned to the office. Pictured: Jacqueline

Crown employee Claire, revealed the ‘pub desk’ concept has been working well because around 60 per cent of people in the area haven’t returned to the office. Pictured: Jacqueline 

‘I’d say in East Ilsley and surrounding villages about 60 per cent of people are still working from home so for us this works really well.

‘And then at the end of the day, you can put your laptop away and maybe get a glass of wine.’

For those who need a quiet space for conference calls or face-to-face meetings, the spacious pub offers areas which can be partitioned-off for privacy.

Sat on the other side of a glass divider from me was Kadi Pariis, the director and practice manager of Gecko Fitness, in Yattendon, who popped out for an hour or two to get some work done.

Sipping a flat white, and between taking work calls, Kadi said: ‘I think a lot of people are getting tired of working from home, so getting out offers a change of scenery and it allows me to get away from day-to-day jobs around the house that I rarely switch off from.

Kadi (pictured) who is a working mum, said what she would achieve from a full day at home is achievable within two to three hours out of the house

Kadi (pictured) who is a working mum, said what she would achieve from a full day at home is achievable within two to three hours out of the house 

‘As a busy working mum I always have several things on the go in and around the home and being out of that environment enables me to focus better.

‘I often feel that in two to three hours out of the house I achieve what I’d normally achieve in a full day at home.’

A Facebook post advertising the idea reads: ‘Fed up of working from home and would like a change of scenery? We are offering you a ‘pub desk’. Available indoors or outdoors in our lovely beer garden in the heated marquee.

‘A table to yourself, reserved for two hours, near a plug socket, with free wifi, unlimited tea and coffee and a lunchtime ciabatta, all for just £10.’

Villagers are loving the concept. On the local Facebook page one person wrote: ‘We could finally go for that pub lunch we always talk about, but I can never get away from my laptop for long enough.’

Jacqueline (pictured) said the 'pub desk' felt relaxed, safe and she managed to get a lot of work done, while also enjoying a yummy lunch

Jacqueline (pictured) said the ‘pub desk’ felt relaxed, safe and she managed to get a lot of work done, while also enjoying a yummy lunch 

Another wrote: ‘I tried this today and it was great. Table to myself, good wifi signal, unlimited drinks and a tasty lunch. Would definitely recommend to anyone who needs a change of scenery.’

I thoroughly enjoyed a beetroot hummus and crispy chickpea ciabatta for lunch, served with chunky chips and a side salad – the perfect fuel for an afternoon of writing, and even tastier that I hadn’t made it myself.

Monday lunchtime was fairly quiet – but there was still a steady stream of customers. And even though the pub-desk has only just been advertised, bookings are filling up fast for this week and next.

I will definitely be back for the office-in-a-pub experience. It felt relaxed, safe and I managed to get lots of work done, while sipping on unlimited coffee and enjoying a yummy lunch. A bargain for a tenner.

I felt more motivated to work away from the distractions of the house – the dishwasher that needed emptying, the washing that needed to be put away and the dog begging for another walk.

Andy Nash who is the Operations Manager for Punch Pubs & Co, said the latest restrictions have been a challenge

Andy Nash who is the Operations Manager for Punch Pubs & Co, said the latest restrictions have been a challenge 

Andy Nash, Operations Manager for Punch Pubs & Co, which own the Crown, said the last seven months ‘have been a rollercoaster’.

‘From the shock of lockdown through to a safe reopening, the success of Eat Out To Help Out and now having to adapt further to work under new restrictions to ensure our customers can still come and safely enjoy their time with us.

‘The latest restrictions are a challenge. We have always provided great table service but the wearing of masks has taken some getting used to and calling last orders and having the pub empty of guests by 10pm is really tough.

‘We felt local residents would have had enough of working at home, possibly with other home workers and fancy a much-needed change of scenery.

‘We offer great coffee, a light lunch, great customer service, two hours reserved table inside or outside, with wifi and near a plug. What else could you need?’

Other pubs in the Berkshire area are following suit, including The Anton Arms, in Andover and The Rowbardge, in Reading. 

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