The Five Bells Inn, Clyst Hydon – James Garnham & Charlotte Bradley

The Five Bells Inn, Clyst Hydon – James Garnham & Charlotte Bradley

Clyst Hydon is a beautiful and quiet village surrounded by the parishes of Cullompton, Plymtree, Talaton, Whimple, Clyst St Lawrence and Broadclyst. It is home to The Five Bells – an 18th century Grade II Listed thatched inn. Since December 2017, James Garnham and fiancée Charlotte Bradley have been bringing this much-loved gastropub back to life.

Any dining experience here is underpinned by excellent customer service – one of the reasons why this is just one of two pubs in Devon to hold a rare ‘Bib Gourmand’ from the Michelin Guide. Having grown up in the village, and with his mum and brother still living there, we catch up with James to hear more about the ambition that is driving this close-knit team forward.

Hi James. To kick things off, tell us how you define good customer service?

Our focus is to make each person that comes through our door feel like an individual, whether it’s for a light lunch, casual catch up with friends, or a special celebratory meal. We make them feel welcome, appreciated and above all, looked after. From this point, our staff are able to have conversations outside of what food and drink they might like and begin to develop a rapport with them.

That’s fantastic. So, why is customer service so important to your business?

In the service industry, this is what makes or breaks you. If a customer walks in and feels like he/she knows you, then they are likely to retain that positive emotion and will want to return. It’s about being present in people’s memories. Humans buy from humans at the end of the day, so it’s important to be friendly and outgoing and know when to stop a conversation and just let people enjoy the experience.

Although we serve good food and drinks, we are actually selling an experience. Led by millennials, more and more people are looking for (and search out) special experiences so we are here to give them a dining experience that they can’t find elsewhere. We aim to offer consistency, value for money and an excellent dining experience to everyone who walks through our door.


And how do you ensure that your team give this high level of customer service?

The most important thing is picking the right people. We don’t ask applicants to interview for us, we only ask them to come in and have a chat. That way we can understand them as a person and see if they have the personality to fit with our customer service. Friendliness and charisma is what we are looking for – you can train someone in the job but you can’t teach them to be charismatic!

Once hired, it’s then down to training. We give our staff the knowledge and the confidence of what our products are and how to describe them so that they can confidently answer our customers’ questions. When we have a new menu launch, all staff attend a food day where our kitchen team learn how to prepare and cook the food and our front of house team get to taste it. They learn what every dish is so that they can explain and recommend them to our customers with confidence.

We also have staff meetings where we ask staff to remember times when they have had good or bad customer service and we also ask them to remember how they felt and what could’ve made their experience better. Remembering how they want to be treated when they sit down in a pub or restaurant is a great way to bring out the best in their ability.

In the kitchen, a freedom to experiment means we can adapt our menus often and take huge pleasure in delighting our customers. Value for money is constantly at the forefront of our minds and we have tailored our offering to appeal to as many people as possible, at different price points. It’s worth noting that we can cater for a wide range of dietary requirements from gluten and dairy free, to vegetarian and vegan. Our chefs will happily plan a special menu from scratch for a prospective customer, if required, and talk through the components in individual dishes.


That sounds like such a positive approach, James. How do you measure success in customer service?

Customer feedback on the night – when you talk to customers and create a rapport with them they are happy to give you feedback because they feel at ease. Most of our feedback is highly positive but on the odd occasion a customer is perhaps slightly more critical then that’s valuable info to have and address.

The other way of receiving feedback is through public and online reviews such as Facebook or Trip Advisor and when people use social media to thank you for their experience. This is a great way of letting potential customers know how good your customer service is. We think it shows a level of confidence in what we offer and a transparency in the business by making all feedback public.


What do you do when you get it wrong?

First and foremost, we admit that we got it wrong and apologise. We teach our staff to care about people’s needs so the number one emotion that we show before we fix the problem is empathy. The customer is always right in the service industry. Our ethos is that we do anything we can in that moment to make sure that the problem is fixed to a satisfactory level – where possible we go above and beyond a customer’s expectation.


To find out more about the wonderful Five Bells Inn, Clyst Hydon visit:


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