A farm venue distinguished by its outstanding food offering.
Vicky and Peter Moffitt started offering weddings in earnest from their rural setting near Hadrian’s Wall in 2015. With high quality catering at the heart of their offer, some shrewd business mentoring set them off on the right foot, creating a streamlined and profitable enterprise. We talk to Vicky.
When did you start your venue business and what is its history?
We diversified our farm rearing young dairy cattle to a tea room and ice cream parlour in 2005. In 2015 we had run several weddings on site as customers had loved the place and asked us to, so we set up a marquee within our old Straw Barn and it has been great.
Tell us about your location and site
We are on Hadrian’s Wall which is a World Heritage Site. We are slightly remote really although to get to Newcastle only takes 10 minutes, so I would say our location means we have had to work very hard to get noticed. The people who enjoy the Wall tend to walk it so we don’t get a huge amount of passing trade. We decided to be known for wonderful wedding food and that is how we have stood out from the crowd.
What facilities for outdoor functions do you offer?
As well as our barn marquee, we have a gorgeous tipi on our wedding lawn which we can use for ceremonies and intimate weddings. We also have a seating system where we put small bales and hessian upholstered planks out on our wedding lawn for outdoor ceremonies. This can be slightly challenging so we only charge if the weather plays ball and we can succeed on the day!
We work with a great Yorkshire company called Northern Star Tepees who will do pop up glamping villages on site for weddings, it adds a whole new dimension to what we can offer and how long the party rolls on for.
What services do you offer?
We do absolutely everything. In the run up to the wedding we will have collected all the contact details of the suppliers, agreed a timeline with the couple and completely oversee the timings and operations. The bride and groom have no stress. We do all the cooking ourselves and even offer for couples to come and make their own ice cream if that is what they fancy! Every wedding is different and we adapt our menus to match the mood of the food the couple requires on the day. Persian BBQ anyone?
Describe how you researched and sourced your structures
We visited several marquee manufacturers around the country. The final decision was based on quality and personal service, not price. Tectonics were high quality and had fabulous service at every level. I then wanted to offer couples a smaller venue/cool chill out area for bigger weddings so, again, I looked at all the tipi makers and went for a very high quality one with a good history of excellent customer service and testimonials. The Tentipi guys are brilliantly helpful and responsive and the tipi is going really well.
How do you work with your customers to make their event unique?
We do one wedding per week maximum and only about 25 per year. This enables us to really focus on the experience and give each event lots of time. We offer props that couples have willed on to others free of charge and help them to set up the day before their wedding, offer them a cuppa and run through the practical things so everyone is confident in what they are doing.
How do you publicise yourself?
We advertise in our local newspaper and we use a few online portals like Coco Wedding Venues and Hitched but really I would say we sell weddings on word of mouth.
How would you describe your style or unique selling point?
Our food is our USP. We even grow vegetables on the farm and we use our neighbours’ excellent meat and the wonderful Carroll’s heritage potatoes from Berwick in North Northumberland. We cook everything from scratch and don’t buy in any ready made foods. It is hugely important to us that we have integrity in all our food offerings and we use modern techniques to give our food the edge. All the guests rave about the food!
What challenges have you faced?
It is hard having to be skilled at multiple different jobs! I can cook, clean, do the admin and also have a go at the maintenance. Something I need to learn in 2020 is our new bookkeeping system so that I can see my company from the inside out through the figures. We have swapped from Sage to Quick Books so that should make life a bit easier.
Have you worked with any industry bodies or consultants?
We were mentored by a friend’s company in Dorset. The wonderful Jonathan Cornish of Deans Court is an example to us all in how to be organised! He gave us his entire system of how to run quotes, which turn into ‘Wedding Notes’ which then form the blueprint for the day for all the different departments. He came to Northumberland and completely set us up and trained us in where not to go wrong! Money very well spent.
What are your plans for next season?
Next season we are looking to simplify. Simplify our admin, kitchen processes and staffing. The whole Truckman idea of storming, forming, norming, performing is bang on… now we are ready to start performing financially.
Describe your average day mid-season
Take the children to school. Answer emails, check rotas for the upcoming wedding, check staffing for set up and linen/glass orders, meet with the chef to ensure we are on track numbers wise. We eat lunch together as it’s a chance to connect then in the afternoon we push on to make sure all the little details are finalised. There are usually last minute changes to seating plans so we snag that. Then we respond to new enquiries, organise showrounds and generally buzz about!
What do you enjoy about the business and why?
I like the people I work with. The team aspect of hospitality is probably what keeps most people coming back. The couples are 99/100 very easy and very grateful for all the effort we put in and it is the testimonials and comments that come back which make all the work worthwhile. On a work level, I like to be busy and I definitely work better when there is a lot to do rather than not enough!
What other outdoor hospitality sectors do you operate in?
We run a ‘FEST’ for a local company each year which is fun. They dress in festival gear and come and have a laugh. It’s a different feel to a wedding and just as much fun.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud of my team and proud of myself for hanging on in there when I sometimes find everything too overwhelming. If it wasn’t for the people I work with I would not still be doing this job as it is a young person’s game!
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Do your research, decide who you are and how you are going to stand out. Weddings are a crazy business and you need to have a strong identity. Finally, I think the owner needs to meet the couples; it works much better as they can trust that you will follow through on what you say. Confidence in your business is everything to a couple looking at spending an awful lot of money on one day.
POP UP GLAMPING
Northern Star Tepees www.northernstartepees.co.uk
Fiesta Furniture www.fiestafurniture.co.uk
Stenhouse Flooring www.stenhouseflooring.co.uk
Newcastle upon Tyne