Hamish Champ: Surprise surprise; a happy licensee

By Hamish Champ

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cask ales, Great british beer, Great british beer festival, Beer, Campaign for real ale

Despite being a lover of 'proper' beer since my, ahem, mid-teens I'm ashamed to admit that it is only since I've been working at the Publican that I...

Despite being a lover of 'proper' beer since my, ahem, mid-teens I'm ashamed to admit that it is only since I've been working at the Publican​ that I have visited the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF).

As a shop window for the best in British beer the event is a sure-fire winner. I love it. Even the realisation that many real ale drinkers totally conform to the stereotype portrayed in various quarters of the media doesn't put me off.

Judging by the hordes of people thronging Earl's Court last week this year's bash was a great success. True, I observed a couple of lecherous and booze-fuelled old men behaving in a decidedly un-gentlemanly fashion towards a couple of female attendees. But on the plus side I met many decent people whose passion for great beer I found enormously encouraging.

One conversation I had at the GBBF in particular stuck with me long after I'd ceased to have the aftertaste of half a dozen different cask ales competing for a place on my palate.

It was with the licensee of a pub located a few miles north of London in the Hertfordshire countryside and I began our chat by adopting a look of genuine concern as I asked her - for she was a she - how business was going.

"Business is booming," she beamed.

"Really?" I asked, somewhat incredulous that anyone running a pub in the current environment could be so positive, given that we're in the early stages of a national economic crisis the likes of which many in this country have never seen, plus there's what many regard as an industry-debilitating smoking ban to contend with, while the costs of doing business are going through the roof like Jack's beanstalk would've done if his mother had planted it indoors in a nice pot instead of throwing the seeds out of the window and into the garden.

"Yes, really. We're in growth," she replied.

"Er, how come?" I asked.

"We focus on what we do best, which is to serve a range of great cask ales. Yes we're niche, but we know our limitations and we aim to be the best at doing what we do. Our customers appreciate the efforts we go to and they keep coming back."

"And I take it you're a free house?"

"Absolutely. Wouldn't have it any other way," she said, somewhat sagely.

That put things in perspective. I didn't ask about how she financed her operation from the outset - she'd been in the pub game a mere three years - nor how she coped with rising interest rates and the like.

But she was a commendable advert for those who argue that good operators with a head for business who understand customer service and who are in command of their own affairs can do well in a tough market. No beer tie and 'fair maintainable rent' for her. Oh no.

That said, there was an interesting comment on my Punch/CVC story last week, to the effect that the pubco model enables many wannabe licensees a cheap(er) entry route to the business.

If the thousands of such individuals had taken on the level of debt required to purchase their own pub, the commentator wondered, how the market would look now?

Thoughts, anyone?

Related topics: Other operators

Property of the week

The Hazeldene Hotel

- Tenancy

The Hazeldene Hotel is opposite the Famous Blacksmiths Shop in Gretna Green. With 11 letting rooms, it is in a prime location to offer fantastic...

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more