Chris Duffy: Behind The Scenes At Lancaster Brewery

We’ve been grafting hard to make this Christmas a super one from Lancaster Brewery. This time of year, with the lead up to Christmas, is huge for me and the team. We hope all our hard work pays off and the customers are happy!

To give you an idea of the way we do things, here’s a rundown of what we’ve had on:

- Lancaster Christmas Market (23rd, 24th, 25th November)

- Christmas party nights (30th November - 22nd December)

- New Year’s Eve party (31st December)

Christmas Party Nights

Firstly, this starts with launching pretty much all of these events at the same time. It feels as though Christmas party nights take priority as these are ticketed events, we know how many guests are coming, and we have the potential to create an amazing atmosphere and party for a set number of guests. Gauging the potential audience is always tricky. Will we get returning guests? Did they love last year enough to come back? What more can we offer? These are just some of the questions we have in the early stages.

We did an amazing job last Christmas with a new format. Guests dined in a huge heated marquee and were then invited to join us in the main brewery hall for entertainment, drinking, and dancing. With the limitations of our venue, we created a stunning atmosphere and guests really got into the party feel. The bands we had were great and we can’t thank them enough for putting on a good show!

This format works so to adjust and learn from the development of the first year is a task and something that I feel we have accomplished. This year, we’re providing the same fantastic food and format of the marquee, while also having a compare to liven the guests up, and then the most (in my opinion) popular band in Lancaster: the 24/7 function band (insider secret: I have actually played in this band and have worked with the lead singer… what a great guy and a stunning voice).

Our team go through rigorous training in the lead up to the party nights to ensure we work as fast and efficiently as possible. We’re all committed to ultimately getting drinks to customers as quick and as professionally as possible, maintaining high-standards and a smile! I don’t think I know of any other venue that has such a wide selection of cask ales available in one place and they’re all brewed on our site with care and attention.

The logistical planning of the marquee, the setup of the tables, chairs, table dressing, stocking up the bars, heating up the winter warmer and making sure the food orders are right on the night are just a small handful of jobs we undertake each night.

These jobs are not quick and easy. They take time, many hours, and dedication in providing the high-standard of service. After all this is done, we take a deep breath and smile! We all understand the hours needed with our small team to be put in to make it a success.

Coordination of the nights is imperative to their success, as well as the support from the team - building the fun and a trusting work relationship. All of this is key to the overall running of the party. As a manager, I put faith in people to perform. I guide them through the running of the event and hope, through this, that they learn and develop skills of which we all can be proud. Why we do all this? That one look, smile, or ‘thank you’ at the end of the night for me means the world. It means I’ve done my job, made a difference, and exposed guests to an experience they will remember.

Lancaster Christmas Market

Where to begin? I took this event on, which was a natural progression for me as I became the Brewhouse & Tap Manager, not knowing really how to put on an event of this scale.

Through the years, the Lancaster Christmas Market has grown and built a fan base and an understanding that it’s the best Christmas market the local area offers. Some try to replicate it, but our location and scale of the event, the quality of traders, and the produce showcased at the event makes it a success.

It’s hard graft trying to coordinate over 60+ traders who are out and about, busy selling at other stalls, keeping up with stock demands, and making the next batch of foodie delights. Keeping them all updated and getting them to part with their hard-earned cash for a pitch is a task and also, with the amount of health and safety aspects we need to put in place, understandably we do end up chasing our tails with this one!

A variety and mix of different traders is key and we have to (1) ensure each stall sells their products with little competition and (2) offer the visitors the choice of what they want! Not everyone is the same, some have different tastes. Some visitors, or so I’m told, like to wander and peruse at the stalls on the first day and then come back to purchase! These are risky tactics if you ask me as some visitors flash the cash and grab the bargains while they can!

Ensuring safety with the install is imperative which means, when I schedule each stall trader in, I have to do this with careful precision which goes straight out the window if we see problems on the motorway or the traffic through Lancaster! If this runs smoothly, it’s a dream, stress levels are low, and smiles, anticipation, and Christmas joy are in the air!

I love the 15 minutes before we open the event, where we get to see the eager punters waiting at the door, queuing to be the first to see the stalls. It really adds the buzz to my experience and then... boom! We’re open and I can have that 2 - 6 minutes where everything is out of my hands.

This, as you can imagine, doesn’t last for long - then my role turns to problem solving. If I am happy everything has been put in place before we open I can relax. If we’re up against it for one reason or another… a headless chicken and something about running around springs to mind!

The main problem solver I have found in previous years is the parking! Just the thought of it keeps me awake at night. Car parking spaces are limited for the scale of the event, we do put everything in place to try and accommodate the influx of guests we see, opening up the NWA car park space is a massive factor to the success of the event, although being a short walk to the event, it can feel like a pain in the backside.

To eliminate this, I am looking into a shuttle bus to transport market goers to the main site, cutting down the amount of people having to walk. This would work great from Lancaster town centre, perhaps Dalton Square, to the Brewery in a circular, with buses running every 20 minutes. I think that’s being realistic with the Lancaster traffic.

Costs are a huge factor in ensuring we make the event not only a success for the stall holders but for us hosting the event. Ultimately, I’m willing to invest in the event to ensure we give the customer the best experience and that means from start to finish. One year, seeing a wheelchair being pushed down the small path on the main road really made my heart sink. This event is a team effort and we all need to pull together to make it a success, that is including the traffic control we hire in to coordinate the parking.

Enough of the rambling, it’s about kickstarting the Christmas cheer, getting the beer and winter warmers flowing, and seeing the smile on peoples faces as they enjoy the kids’ entertainment, the bands, choirs, and mulled wine. I wonder how much it costs to get the Coca-Cola truck? We all have dreams, eh?

New Year’s Eve

The most anticipated and quick turn around event of the year, usually themed, and a secret until the launch! Let’s say no more… as it’s a secret. Oh pants - we have to sell tickets! It’s going to be huge, extravagant, and a show-stopping event. Some may say "the greatest"... I’ve said too much.

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