What's it like to run your own pub?
Many people dream of giving up the nine-to-five routine and running their own pub. The idea of being the focus of the community and acting as host for relaxed evenings, serving good food and ale to local patrons, can be a long-cherished ambition. But the reality is very different from the dream. Running a pub can be very hard work, but also very satisfying.
Long working hours is the first reality that potential landlords have to confront. Running a pub demands early starts to receive deliveries, organisation of time, good staff management all day, late service extending until 11pm, and finally stock-taking, book-keeping and cleaning until midnight. You should seriously consider whether you have the stamina to keep up with this lifestyle seven days a week before committing to buying a pub.
What Sort of Pub?
The next question is whether to consider leasehold, freehold, or tenancy. Choosing a pub can be great fun – different pubs in different areas can have vastly different characteristics. Urban pubs have to compete with supermarket drink prices, but can prove to be a very vibrant and stimulating environment. Rural pubs offer a smaller network of customers who can be very loyal, but they are vulnerable to diminishing returns unless passing trade from tourists can be secured.
When making decisions about what sort of pub to run you should bear these facts in mind:
· A leasehold agreement gives the right to occupy a property for a fixed number of years (usually more than 10) in exchange for a commitment to pay the brewery an agreed rent and to take financial responsibility for the fixtures, fittings and glassware.
· Freehold involves the outright purchase of the property. You have no ties to any brewery, leaving you free to choose where to source your supplies.
· Tenancy is a short-term managerial role (usually 1-2 years with extensions) that can lead to a more permanent arrangement with the brewery that owns the pub. It requires up-front investment to buy stock and lay down a deposit, but requires a healthy turnover to meet staff wages and stock costs.
In all cases, you should be in no doubt about the financial commitment – you need to make enough profit to pay your staff, keep the brewery happy, replace stock lost due to spillage and broken glasses, pay suppliers of food and cleaning supplies, and finally pay yourself a reasonable wage as landlord. With constant pressure to maintain standards, running a pub can be stimulating but also intellectually demanding. The ability to focus on the long term is also helpful, as a ten-year lease is a considerable investment in time and energy.
The advantages of running your own pub are that you will develop a familiarity with your customers, and get to know them and their preferences to the extent that you will refer to them by their first name and be able to recall what they drink from memory. There are not many professions where the relationship between landlord and customer are so close. The publican occupies a special place within the community, as the pub is the focus for so many events, such as wedding receptions, parties, wakes, and sporting occasions. Being at the forefront of this can be a very satisfying experience.
Landlords also need a certain degree of moral courage to help defuse tense situations. Getting to know customers involves building trust and promoting the pub as their first port of call. Without building that rapport, customers will go elsewhere. This requires constant analysis of the market – is a neighbouring pub offering a better menu at a cheaper price? Do they offer quizzes or student nights? Are the clients going there because they offer a selection of guest ales?
If you think that you want to run your own pub, then the first step is to select a suitable pub in a popular and attractive area and contact the brewery that is offering the lease, or arrange the finance to purchase the pub outright.
The next step is to apply for a personal licence from the local authority, which will go above the door. You must be at least 18 years old, with no criminal record, and be able to prove that you are a ‘fit and proper person’ to be able to handle these responsibilities. Some bar experience is necessary, and the three day British Institute of Inn Keeping course will teach you the basics of the trade. If you are considering the preparation of food, then the local environmental health department will pay a visit.
Once you have decided on your menu, arranged the financial details with your accountant, and made your initial order for stock then you can open the doors to new trade. Customers will expect to see you smiling and relaxed behind the bar, and first impressions will guarantee repeat visits. Pull your first pint and enjoy your new life!