Vision or venue – hospitality’s chicken or egg dilemma


6 min read

Vision or venue – hospitality’s chicken or egg dilemma

Alice Leach

Alice Leach

Jun 4, 2024

What's on the menu

    Meet the team

    • Who: Adam Sumner
    • Role: Co-owner
    • Business: Pogo
    • Where: Hockley, Nottingham

    That serves up

    • Decades of experience
    • A business built on pillars
    • Cross-skilled team members
    • An individual experience

    How many times have you ‘designed’ your dream bar over drinks with friends? Or endured the pipedreams of people who have no business opening one? Imagine offering two experienced and passionate hospitality pros the chance to make a venue their own. The hitch? They didn’t have a vision.

    Best friends Adam Sumner and Kyle Bentley found themselves in this position. Between them, they have decades of hospitality and marketing experience (both currently work with drinks behemoth Sazerac). It’s this experience that led to their being offered a venue in the centre of Nottingham’s independent hospitality scene.

    Despite nearly 20 years in the hospitality industry, they didn’t have a ‘dream bar’. Maybe because their careers had kept them so busy. But they love Nottingham – its scene and the unique blend of independent bars, restaurants and venues that call Hockley home.

    When they were offered the space, they combined their experience and love for Nottingham and great hospitality – and got to work making it happen.

    Urgency breeds creativity

    So what do you do when you don’t have a plan? “Use the urgency to fuel you”. The Pogo team started by carving out a USP, built on five pillars that would drive everything they do:

    • Accessibility
    • Communication
    • Brightness
    • Community
    • Colour

    These standards became the foundations of the venue and the business. And when decisions needed to be made, the Pogo team could combine their wealth of industry knowledge with these pillars and make big decisions, fast.

    And when it came to naming the joint, they leaned into the fact that they couldn’t name it.

    “We were pogoing back and forth; at one point we had a list of over 400 names. We had so many ideas that it was clear, Pogo was our name.”

    Take everything you love about going out, and make that your superpower

    Pogo was born out of a love for the area and passion for great community spaces and great hospitality. 

    “Our venue is small, it’s cosy, it’s a neighbourhood vibe. So we lean into that. We take our pillars and use them for everything, from what the drinks look and taste like to how our staff interact with customers.”

    Pogo is a neighbourhood spot that doesn’t specialise in… anything. (Adam’s words not ours). It’s a space for everyone, accessible, with a charm that’s tailored to you. After a handcrafted cocktail, explained by a superstar bartender? Coming up. Want to sip a draft beer while listening to the music, not a mixology masterclass, you’ve got it. The space, and staff, adapt to your vibe as much as they share their own with you.

    Learning to let go and hand over power to your staff creates a real power team

    To bring their neighbourhood vibe together, they need an exceptional, experienced team. Adam and Kyle handpicked people they knew had exceptional skill and customer service.

    Sarah Tunney, the General Manager, has a background in all areas of hospitality and came from a role of Head Chef at Junkyard. She makes sure Pogo is a place for everyone by injecting her energy into the team. At her side is bar wizard and assistant manager Calum Hyett, who brings a cool blend of impressive yet comforting customer service to the bar.

    But finding staff post-covid has been a struggle, with many of the dedicated hospitality experts having left the industry. Adam says that as there’s more remote work available, it’s limiting people’s eagerness to enter the hospitality sector instead of taking a ‘from home’ job. But Pogo has a plan.

    The Pogo team is crucial to the venue’s success. Adam’s sure that letting people take control instead of stagnating will help attract and retain excellence:

    Use restrictions to your benefit

    After nine months of planning, lawyers and licensing, Pogo was able to open the doors in November 2023, with Kyle looking after the accounts and payroll and Adam taking care of front of house and marketing.

    But last-minute, unexpected restrictions influenced the style and layout of the venue.

    Adam tells us: “We were granted a seated only licence, so we cannot serve standing customers or have an open bar space“.

    This might have frustrated their plans – if they’d planned in a traditional way. But with a customer-centred approach, they’ve taken that limitation and focussed their energy on making sure the customer service is excellent.

    Provide a special experience, even when you’re time-limited

    Your team is key to creating a space people fall in love with. So Adam has handpicked a team he trusts, who all share the same key skills: hospitality excellence and accessible personalities.

    “We are a seated only venue. So in that contact time between being served and at the table, we need to communicate a lot in a short space of time. What is communicated and how we present ourselves, and what people feel about us within those 30 seconds to a minute of contact time is imperative. We are red hot on customer service and we’re becoming renowned for it.”

    Great customer service isn’t enough. It needs to be a full package. And that’s what Pogo prides itself on. From taking a unique approach to opening, the honest and organic personality of the business and the team is why they’re thriving.

    Managing the schedule

    Adam loves systems. He’s first to admit that there’s a fundamental issue with scheduling and rota planning across the industry. The challenges are varied: you’ve got large teams fighting over hours, and small teams that don’t have the numbers to cover last-minute changes. The Pogo team is a tight-knit crew of seven. So he plans everything 3-4 weeks in advance so that the venue’s not vulnerable, especially on key days, like busy Saturdays.

    And with a small team, local events impact everything. Everyone wants to see the same bands, go to the same events, be off on bank holidays. But the Pogo team plans for these big events six weeks ahead.

    Workforce management systems that allow your team to have easy access to their rota (and help you plan ahead) can be invaluable when scheduling for busy times, like summer.

    Pogo Nottingham's interior

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