Finalists from across the country descended on the capital to answer a final round of questions from a panel of experts, set out their case for winning and, for the lucky few, write their name on a precious trophy.
By the end of the day, all the winners were chosen with judges satisfied this year’s winners were some of the highest standard ever seen.
Ed Bedington, editor of the Publican’s Morning Advertiser, said: “The sheer amount of passion and dedication that flows throughout this sector was clear to see during the judging day, and while there was a huge competitive edge to all of the businesses that were finalists on the day, it was great to see them all networking with each other, sharing thoughts and ideas – that’s what makes the sector stand out for me. It’s a community of operators and it was great to see that reinforced even in such a competitive environment.
“Professionalism was also very much to the fore – as an industry, we need to reinforce that image that our sector is a professional business offering great career opportunities – Panel Day was a great illustration of that.”
For guest judge Kate Nichols, chief executive of the ALMR, the day typified the talent within the sector and that our pubs are in good hands.
Nichols said: “Publican judging day is always a stimulating one as it brings together a diverse range of operators from across all aspects of the licensed hospitality sector keen to share their experiences. It means you come away inspired after hearing all the positive work that is being done across the board to drive up standards, improve consumer offers and to recognise, reward their team.
“One of things that I never get used to is how much this matters to the companies involved. They don’t necessarily want recognition for themselves but for their team and the individual servers and bar staff and tenants who underpin their application. Ours is a people business and this comes through time and time again in the presentations and applications.”
On March 15, all winners will be revealed but, for now, here are some of the judges’ thoughts:
Making an impression
“Competition in the pub sector is fiercer than ever and Publican Award judges have an increasingly difficult task in choosing one winner from a strong field. Like it or not, the judges have to separate the candidates somehow and the performance on the judging day is usually the deciding factor.
“I cannot overemphasise the importance of choosing your team to go into battle on judging day. Each member must be ready to put the case forward for their area of the business and there should be an innate understanding when tough questions come through of who is best placed to tackle each one.
“One example that brought this home to me this year was the barnstorming performance of one particular operator, who took the panel’s concerns and turned them on their head. This person’s unwavering confidence in their product and ability to pinpoint exactly how it rose above the competition blew the judges away.
“This example also highlights another lesson for a panel beating performance – kill your competition. Ultimately the judges need to say that x is better y because of a particular reason. Talking about the things you do well is not enough, you need to impress upon the judges that you do things better than anyone else, and certainly the two or three other pretenders to your crown.”
“As a judge I’m often taken aback as to how nerve-wracking the finalists find the panel interviews. There are occasions when it’s obvious they are feeling the pressure – their hands shake and they sometimes stumble over their words.
“Those finalists that impress judges the most are the ones who are clear on their strengths as a company, why they feel they deserve to win a Publican Award, and are able to articulate that clearly and concisely.
“Strength of conviction is always important as to why their company is the best and should be recognised.”
“Though all companies on show were on top of their game and impressed judges, winners seemed to share the traits of uniqueness and originality – driving the industry on to a new high and setting benchmarks.
“Those who missed out should feel no shame amid fierce competition, but be proud to reach this stage and stand among the best the pub trade has to offer.”
“Judging was seriously tough. Each business was in strong position and had clearly targeted, marketed and executed its offer well.“However, you have to go with your gut – our winners have excelled on every front over the last year and, while their competitors were by no means resting on their laurels, the winners had already laid plans to grow the scope and performance of their business further.”
“Before the panel day I thought I had a very clear winner in mind for each of the categories I was chairing. However, the interview process opened up new pros and cons about each of the businesses – having a panel of experts there to help guide more in depth questions also revealed a lot more than I could have done on my own about each of the finalists.”
“For me, dropping the same ‘why do you think you can win’ question on each of the finalists at the end of the interview really made them take stock of the whole process. There was always a moment of silent contemplation from the finalist before they answered the question and it was really interesting to hear the different answers.”
“What sets the winners apart is not just great product, delivering phenomenal KPIs and having a happy team and guests – all the shortlisted finalists had that in spades – it is about a passion for continuous improvement, constantly looking to the next big thing and the next innovation, not being content to rest on their laurels.
“Innovation and doing something different either from the rest of the pack or different from what they have done previously is a theme the judges kept coming back to, particularly on panels where it was incredibly close to call.”
“The Publican Awards winners this year demonstrated a good dose of progression to speak of as well exciting future plans, which showed the judges they had no intentions to stand still and not use an award win to enhance their business.
“One recurring theme certainly seemed to be that this year's winners were competent and incredible achievers but without any hint of arrogance. It goes without saying that this counts greatly to judges who see this industry as a people business where social skills are key."
“For those who didn't win this year, my advice would be to go and visit those who did. See their businesses – eat the food, drink the drink, consider the management, the concept, the category and also think not about how your offer is better but what may have caught the imagination of the judges.”