The perfect partnership – The Birds and The Bees – Licensee interview
Imagine a country pub – all white, with lovely hanging baskets, and a great outdoor terrace… inside quirky memorabilia, stone walls, a fire, comfy seats, and defined areas for lounging, eating and relaxing, serving quality food with great service… that’s the Birds and the Bees in Stirling. It really is the perfect example of a quality country pub. The twist in the tale is that it is not really in the country but almost bang in the middle of Stirling.
It recently picked up the DRAM Gastro Pub of the year title and it’s not hard to see why. Owner Ross Henderson and wife Michelle are delighted with the accolade. Over the last few years they have concentrated on improving the quality of the food on offer, their efforts have certainly paid off. Today the Birds and the Bees serves some 1,500 meals a week, with a great majority repeat business. Says Ross, “Last year was our best year ever.” He puts much of the recent success down to the quality of the food. He says, “I think if we were just a pub, we would never have been so successful. Some of our customers come two or three times a week and they are primarily coming for the food, so we have to keep the menu interesting and of course keep our service up to standard”
He continues, “We have fresh deliveries from the markets every day, and we order a lot of unusual fish along with the old favourites. We also use Aberdeen Angus beef, and source from local Scottish suppliers whenever we can. Everything is fresh except for some of our chips and scampi. I actually think Scampi is best frozen!”
The Birds and the Bees has certainly come a long way since Ross bought the business back in 1983. (prior to that he had worked in the family clothing business). The premises themselves have been widely developed and now are almost four times the original size. Ross explains, “When I bought the Birds and the Bees it was a bar and over the years I have developed it. Today it is more of a venue than a pub. We cater for funerals, weddings, christenings and we also have exercise classes and business meetings. Very importantly it is still a local pub to the locals”
Says wife Michelle, “We make use of every part of the building and we are continually re-investing. We have just built a new deck and patio area and we are always adding pieces of bric-a-brac. Our customers do notice when we add things. You have to reinvest. People get bored if you let the pub get tired. ”
She adds, “The look of the whole venue really matters. Tourists who come here take lots of photographs, I do think they appreciate the complete look inside and out, it is a one off, it’s also got a great atmosphere which is very difficult to create. We wanted to create premises where I would take my family, and this is it.”
Michelle met hubby Ross when she worked there as a waitress. Today she has a very hands on approach to the business, while managing her other role as mum to four children! And as Ross explains her involvement has been instrumental in the success of the business. He says, “Michelle was the best thing that ever happened to me. When she got more involved with the business it definitely added a new dimension to what we were doing. She made it more appealing to couples and families.”
She was also there to guide the business when Ross was ill a decade ago. A heriditary problem meant at the tender age of 39, he had to undergo a triple heart by-pass, and this procedure unfortunately he is about to undergo again.
However Ross also believes that if it hadn’t been for his illness he may have been less inclined to grow and invest as much in the Birds and the Bees, because he would have likely tried to replicate the success of the pub elsewhere.
Says Michelle, “We would have had more units if Rosss health problem hadn’t kicked in. But it also meant that we didn’t spread ourselves too thinly. In fact I was helping to run another of the families businesses before we started to focus more on the pub side. “
She continues, “We wouldn’t have been able to develop our business without the support of the staff. They have been great and some of them have been here for many years. In fact we sent our head chef Raymond, and one of our front of house team Jemma, to pick up the DRAM Award, and we sat at the table grinning from ear to ear.”
The couple actively market the Birds and the Bees. Last year for the first time they invited travel companies to use the venue. Says Michelle, “We have found that travel companies also want to put clients into places that are not just function rooms. They want a bit of atmosphere. Last year we made a few mistakes, but this year, touch wood, it has all gone smoothly. We now have 14 travel companies using the Birds and the Bees, the great thing is that the tour guides and drivers come back and use the restaurant with their own friends and family.”
She continues, “The internet has been a positive influence on the business, as was the smoking ban. We have definitely benefitted from it as more families now come in to eat. Perhaps in the past they were reluctant to bring children in to smoky atmospheres.”