The anatomy of a great pub operator

Pub operators (aka the pub landlord) define the success of any pub.  Even when pub managers are in front of house most of the time, the operator is the person (or people if you’re in a business partnership) that is driving the business forward. Your character and personality, your style of leadership and your business skills and ideas determine the ethos, and success of a pub. 

So what makes a great pub operator?

5 Must Haves For A Successful Pub Operator

#1: Entrepreneurial

First and foremost in the marketplace today, pub operators need to be entrepreneurial. To keep up with trends in hospitality and meet customer demand, licensees must be prepared to innovate and spot new opportunities as soon as they arise.  Such opportunities might involve a microbrewery, gin distilleries, live music, gourmet gastro dining, on-site roasted coffee, niche customer groups, provision of community facilities, or hosting a networking group.  These activities help to draw people into the pub and encourage them to keep coming back for more, and make your pub stand out from other pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues.  With decreasing numbers of young people drinking alcohol, they can still be attracted to the pub if other facilities, or indeed beverages like mocktails, are available that appeal to them. 

#2: Inspirational leadership

Licensees are not just individuals running a pub; they are leading a team of people.  As business managers, a pub landlord needs to be able to inspire staff and manage employees effectively, leading by example and getting the best out of people.

Then there is the question of training staff – everyone needs training to do their jobs properly.  Recognising individual training needs and potential for development while being prepared to accept that you do not know everything and undergo training sessions yourself, helps to develop a really good working relationship which will benefit staff, customers and the pub business. 

Pub operators need to be prepared to consider ways of inspiring people in all types of ways. Business vision and ethos may sound like very corporate terms for a pub business, but are just as valid in small businesses. Loyalty from your staff has to be earned and this is much easier to do if their values and personal goals are aligned with your businesses’. Consider how you can integrate your company values into the business, such as by organising charity or community events that reflect your employees’ values and interests.

#3: Resilience

Every pub landlord needs to be resilient and able to take the rough with the smooth, prepared to deal with the unexpected at any moment. Things can go wrong, usually at the worst possible moments.  Staff can report in ill unexpectedly leaving you short handed, deliveries may be late due to circumstances beyond your control, or equipment breaks down. Pub operators need to be able to think on their feet, step up if needed and have contingency plans whether dealing with minor or major incidents.

#4: Aptitude for business

It is all too easy to think of being a pub landlord as a lifestyle option. Dreams of retiring to a countryside pub and spending time pouring drinks for your mates is far from the reality of running a pub.  While there are pubs that can offer this kind of lifestyle business, the premium end of the pub market is focused on creating highly innovative and competitive businesses. Pub operators - whether licensees with a pub tenancy or lease - are business owners; the CEO or Managing Director of their pub.

As such, successful pub landlords are aware of the profit margins on every product stocked and service supplied – and whether those products are bringing in the profits required by the pub.  Reducing wastage and identifying unprofitable activities, working out how those unprofitable areas can be made more successful, taking time to attend exhibitions and local functions which may provide new business areas are all part of a pub operator’s business life. 

Of vital importance is the need to have a clear business plan from the very beginning.  Using the Greene King business plan template ensures that nothing is missed, and it enables regular checks to be made on the progress of the business to see if that plan needs amending or to identify any problems before they impact the business adversely.  Taking time to discuss the progress of the business with a Business Development Manager helps identify any issues that need attention. 

#5: Personality

Many of the traits above point towards having a certain type of personality. Entrepreneurial people with inspirational leadership skills are generally great to work with and people like to be around them, they tend to be charismatic. However, it’s important to stress that the pub business is a people business and therefore pub operators do need to have the right personality.

Great pub operators are strong on communication; whether that’s chatting to regulars at the bar, managing staff, or dealing with suppliers. You’ve got to like working with other people because that’s what the business is all about, and people need to like you.

The days of the ‘character pub landlord’, the one that everyone loves to hate, are numbered. We’re looking to recruit pub operators who are personable, confident, and professional in their approach to other people; people we know that will get on with customers and will be a pleasure to do business with!

How do you match up?  Are you entrepreneurial, have an aptitude for business, and able to get on with everyone? Can you inspire your staff and spot opportunities for business growth?  If so, then a career as a great pub operator is definitely for you!