Following the well-attended reopening of The Rule, The Saint sat down with its deputy manager, Fraser Clark, to discuss the pub’s evolution. Mr Clark, who has worked at The Rule for over two years (with stints at the West Port Bar in between), has seen it change across initiatives and owners.
In the 2004-2005 academic year, the Maclay Group bought The Rule and the West Port and tied them together. The Rule was a traditional pub, while the West Port had more of a bar style, creating a combination which covered all tastes. A large body of regulars, who enjoyed both the atmosphere and the food, developed.
This all changed when the Maclay Group decided to make refurbishments at the Rule in June 2014, overhauling the menu and the decor. Instead of a modern, smokehouse style offering, the majority of the money was spent on the menu, thus doing a “half-assed job of making the pub look right,” according to Mr Clark.
To add insult to injury, the self-proclaimed best sports pub in St Andrews was shut during the 2014 Football World Cup, one of the biggest sporting events in the world. This time was expected to be the perfect opportunity to attract business, perhaps turning a few visitors into regulars, yet the pub was shut. When The Rule reopened, the pub many regulars had loved was gone. A concept that might have worked in the city did not translate well to St Andrews.
When Stonegate Pub Company, owners of over 660 UK pubs and bars, took over in July 2015, they performed a full audit. The audit took place on the Friday of the Open, causing an immense workload for the staff, but major improvements were to come. In comparison to the refurbishment under the Maclay Group, the staff knew about the renovation during the takeover, nearly a full six months beforehand. Furthermore, Stonegate Pub Co is used to major refurbishments and therefore knew many of the potential pitfalls that can accompany such changes. Every aspect of the refurbishment was considered and planned for, leading to renovation which, Mr Clark said, “went smoothly.”
The new offering is much lighter, with touches of Scotland in the tartancovered chairs and paler and more rustic wood. The occasional neon sign adds a more modern touch. There is free cucumber water and a wide range of cask and craft beers. The menu has also been completely overhauled, with breakfast served until midday (a boon for any hungover student) and a mix of lighter bites and larger lunches. The pub has installed free Wi-Fi and sockets on every table, and in combination with the new student deals, which include coffee and alcohol, The Rule is the perfect place to work during the day.
The biggest overhaul has been in the pub’s marketing and customer focus. Mr Clark considers one of the biggest problems under the previous owners was how The Rule failed to take advantage of its selling points: free entry, free Wi-Fi, sockets, and a licence until 2 am. After the Vic got its 2 am license, The Rule moved slowly to catch up. When it did, there was no advertising to show the change, so customers left at 11 pm or midnight. The pub is now equipped for late nights with a bigger floor space than the Union and new speakers.
The feedback is much more positive, too. Mr Clark mentioned how customers have reported that The Rule is “much cosier and warmer,” with the food being “a million times better.” The launch party itself was a success, with over 750 people showing up after 9 pm. At other points since the refurbishments, customers have spontaneously commented on the changes, saying The Rule is now “much, much more inviting.” Despite these promising events, The Rule still faces challenges.
Mr Clark said, “We are feeling the effect of the Union refurbishment, [which now] caters for a vast variety of students.”
However, if The Rule gets its new look and selling points out, its success could be transformed. Already as I write this article, I see a broad customer base within the pub: students coming in to catch up or work, families in for a meal and regulars enjoying a beer. The Rule is a beautiful pub with a wonderful atmosphere, and as the opening shows, it has the potential to be very, very popular.