We often get asked what it’s like to run a supperclub from my home as well as what we did to get it started. So I thought I’d write this post to give you a behind the scenes look into Dinner at the Manor.
We decided we wanted to run a restaurant from home having seen supperclubs reported in the media. Kerstin Rodgers’ book Supperclub, was a huge inspiration and really helped us from getting from pipe dream to reality. Although Susie and I do not live together I knew she was a good cook and thought we’d make a good team at running Dinner at the Manor. Susie runs food blog Sticky Pinny.
There are a number of hoops you have to jump through to be legit. The first we did was to get our certificates in food hygiene – which are fairly easy to get online. We also had to think about things like public liability insurance and registering my address with environmental health. At some of our events we serve alcohol and so we need an alcohol licence. It’s fairly easy to get a temporary licence from any English local authority. You fill in a few forms, pay £20 and then they send you a licence that lasts for your event. We are allowed up to five licensed events each year, if we wanted more I would have to get a personal licence, which is a bit more complicated
It was important for us to get the communications right as we are both communications graduates from the University of Leeds. Also, Susie does comms as her full-time job, so she was able to put together our website and sort out our marketing. In the end we were promoting and planning the supperclub many months before our first event as we were keen to get it all right before taking the plunge.
The supperclub is not a money-making scheme. My main motivation was to have a new hobby and to meet new people – something I have already achieved. There is a great network of foodies both in Leeds and the rest of the UK and I am pleased that I can now call them my friends. We are now able to run the supperclub without it costing us anything and whilst we do make a bit of money to put back into the restaurant we would not get very much if we were to pay ourselves a wage! And anything we do make we would have to pay tax on.
Planning for each event starts months in advance when we choose which cookbook will be our theme. We’re lucky that guests have faith in us to book months in advance. We trawl the books to design the perfect menu around our guests’ dietary needs and Susie designs this into something visually appealing. One of the most time consuming aspects of the supperclub is sourcing our ingredients. We commit to using local products where we can, we’ve been amazed by the quality and the value for money. Our favourite places include Keelham Farm, where we get all of our meat and some veg from, and Leeds Market for fish and veg. It’s a bit weird shopping in this way as we get different things from different places rather than the lazy option of getting it all from the supermarket! We’ve also been known to source random chillis and rare herbs from ebay and forage in the hedgerow for free ingredients.
As some of our events include alcohol we’ve also had the opportunity to source some great local products including Leeds Brewery ale and Leventhorpe vineyard wines. It’s really fun giving guests something a bit different to drink with their food. We have to hire glassware in order to have enough receptacles for booze but most supermarkets offer this service for free. This is good news for me as my cupboards are already full up of all the other crockery we’ve had to collect for the restaurant!
We’ve managed to sort out quite a good system for people to book onto our events. Via our website guests can book on by paying a deposit with Paypal. This keeps booking fees low for guests and means that we can be secure that guests are genuine about wanting to come. Being a small operation we cannot afford to have no shows at our events as we have already bought food and drink in. It can be frustrating when guests don’t get back to us nearer the time to confirm their attendance – even when they have paid their deposit. However we have grown to accept that a few last minute cancellations will happen, which is fine as we understand that everyone leads busy lives but it can mean that we have yet another job to do when we are left with empty places only days before an event takes place. Luckily Twitter is quite reliable for filling last minute vacancies. We’ve had many a happy diner join us at short notice, pleased to get a much sought after seat!
Cooking can start at least a week ahead of the supperclub as we try and get as much done as we can in advance. During the week we might be making sorbets, soups, stocks and ice creams, which can all be popped in the freezer until required. We always take the day off work (yes we do this on top of a full time job!) the day before a supperclub to crack on with the prep. We make sure that any last minute cooking is at a minimum – although that doesn’t always work out! We’re not trained chefs, just home cooks who love cooking. We make absolutely everything from scratch.
Having a restaurant in your home can be a bit stressful as your whole house is on display to strangers. Luckily I have a big dining room, which is permanently set up for the supperclub. Some of our peers have very selflessly given up their living rooms for their supperclub so I am glad that ours is fairly self contained. One of my favourite aspects of our set up is that I have a huge table in the kitchen, which is big enough to plate up more than 14 plates of food at a time – it’s a God send! We pride ourselves on our presentation and so the afternoons before opening our doors will often be spent polishing cutlery and crockery and ironing napkins, to ensure the tables are beautifully set, for that wow factor.
The last half an hour before guests arrive is the worst one. Suddenly I get overcome by nerves and wonder why on earth I am opening up my home to people I have never met before! Once the first guests arrive the adrenaline kicks in and then the next few hours are a blur as we dash around attending to our guests needs and getting out the six courses that we serve. Susie and I tend to lead on alternate courses so that we have time for a breather or to be free to help the other. We act as cooks and front of house, which I guess isn’t ideal but it means we can experience the best of both worlds – it would be horrible to miss out on cooking, or to miss out on interacting with guests. Luckily our partners are on hand to help us clear up and wash up, we’ve become quite a well oiled machine now! Susie’s husband Nick is the most amazing photographer and is always on hand to make even the scruffiest plate of food look pretty as a picture!
We always join our guests for a drink and chat once we’ve finished serving food. It’s always lovely to find out more about supperclubbers! We don’t drink at all whilst preparing food. I learnt from bitter experience that I make far too many mistakes if I drink and cook and so it’s just not worth it. However that glass of wine at 10pm feels like a real treat if I’ve had to wait for it!
The guests really make it for us. The feedback that we get is lovely and makes it worthwhile running the supperclub. We have people come from all over Yorkshire. Some people we know, most people we don’t. In fact I think I prefer the supperclubs with strangers as when people are familiar to us they think they can be naughty!
We try and get as much clearing up done on the night of the supperclub, to minimise the hard work the next day. Come the morning I can think about getting the house back to normal. That is unless we have another event, which we’ve been doing recently. In which case it’s back on with the prep – which can be hell with a hangover from the night before! The house feels strangely empty and quiet after a supperclub. Despite the hard work, the sweat and the stress I do find myself pining after the next one and counting down the days until it.
If you love cooking and are thinking of running a supperclub then my advice would be to go for it. Check your market – if there are other supperclubs in your area then go and visit them or contact them for a chat. You’ll also want to think about providing something a bit more unique then anybody else. Next get your planning right – we can spend days writing out action plans and getting everything sorted. It’s worth it in the long run as it makes the actual evening run like a dream. Finally do a test night on friends. Supperclub is nothing like cooking at a dinner party, it’s a lot more frenetic and stressful. Practise your dishes with friends and see what it’s like with catering for large numbers. Above all else, its also very important that you enjoy it! We do and we will carry on holding our events until we don’t have the passion any more, which I don’t think will be any time soon.