How to write a winning entry for the John Smith’s Great British Pub Awards

By Ed Bedington

- Last updated on GMT

Get involved: read our top tips for writing an award-worthy entry
Get involved: read our top tips for writing an award-worthy entry
The John Smith’s Great British Pub Awards launched this week and pubs across the country are being urged to enter the industry’s leading contest.

With the awards now legally of age, this year celebrating its 18th anniversary, The Morning Advertiser​ is encouraging everyone running a pub to throw their hat in the ring.

Ed Bedington, editor of The Morning Advertiser​, which organises the awards, offers some tips and advice on why and how operators should enter.

“When you’re running a business, it’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day challenges and issues that face you on a constant basis. It’s hard to take a step back and take a look at the bigger picture sometimes.

The recognition has been a wonderful boost to our team, got us lots of press attention and attracted many new customers to the Roebuck and we’re still enjoying the results in driving our business.

Tony Leonard and Dominic McCartan, winners in 2017 with the Roebuck Inn in Laughton, East Sussex

“So taking a bit of time out of your day to have a proper look at the business, as part of your award entry, is never a bad thing. Regardless of where you get to in the competition, it’s time well spent and you may pick up on a few things you may have missed.”

Simple to enter

Bedington added: “We’ve designed the competition to make it simple for pubs of all stripes to get involved and put in an entry – with a simple, straightforward entry process that gets a little tougher as you progress further along.

“However, the time spent taking part in the competition is well worth it in terms of investment as many of our previous finalists and winners will attest.” 

Bedington says the key thing to keep in mind when entering is to keep to the point.

“Make sure that you fully read the entry criteria for the category you’re looking at, and make doubly sure that you’ve fully read and understood the questions that we’re asking. It sounds simple, but many people make that basic mistake. Create a checklist to ensure that you’ve not missed any important pieces of information – it’s often easy to overlook.

“Think about what your unique selling points in the business are, where do you think you excel? Speak to your customers and your team – what do they think makes you stand out? Get some outside perspective.

“Make sure if you’re making a claim, you can qualify it, provide information to support it – for example, don’t just say that your sales are up, let us know how much they’re up by giving us a percentage.”

To summarise

  • What makes your pub unique/special?
  • Benchmark your business with customers and staff – what makes you special for them?
  • Think about your success – how has the pub’s efforts in the category area helped bring in more business/new customers?
  • Make sure you qualify your answers – how much has business risen by?
  • Think about the previous 12 months – what have you done to build on your success or turn things around in a challenging environment?
  • Fully read the criteria and questions
  • Re-read your entry before submitting
  • Have you included any and all of the supporting documents required?

The deadline for entries is 18 May ​and you can enter the competition here:​  

What previous winners say

There are many great reasons to enter but don’t just take our word for it – here’s what some of our previous finalists and winners have to say:

Tony Leonard and Dominic McCartan were delighted to win in 2017 with the Roebuck Inn in Laughton, East Sussex​. Leonard said: “We were really proud to win the Great British Pub Awards Freehouse of the Year 2017. The recognition has been a wonderful boost to our team, got us lots of press attention and attracted many new customers to the Roebuck and we’re still enjoying the results in driving our business.

“Awards have always been useful but we discovered, through the use of social media, we can now involve our customers more than ever before through all the heats, leading up to the ceremony, on the night itself and long afterwards, to really maximise the benefits.

“I would encourage all licensees to take part and really make the most of the marketing opportunities it offers through the entire process. All that and we got to have a brilliant night out in London too!”


Heath Ball’s Red Lion & Sun in Highgate, north London, took the title of Wine Pub of the Year in 2016​, and has previously been shortlisted as a finalist in the food categories.

He said there were a number of benefits to his business following its success in the awards: “As a longer-term, well-established business, it gets harder to find things to sing about, so entering, being shortlisted and winning awards gives us something to bring some excitement into the business, something to talk about.

“It also really helps boost customer confidence. Winning certainly brought a lot of new customers to the business to come and have a look at what’s going on and that really helps.”

Ball said the awards are a great opportunity and give older businesses a great opportunity to rise above all the social media excitement surrounding newer businesses. “Everyone on social media is looking for the newest, latest thing, and some awards only seem to recognise that. However the Great British Pub Awards is much more balanced, and it recognises good operations no matter what their age.”

He added that he would urge all operators to look into entering because it boosts customer confidence – rewarding regulars who like to think they’ve played a role in an award-winning business and brings in new business – and it also helps to boost staff morale as well.


Barry Ladhar, of north-east-based Crafted Projects, took the title of Spirits Pub/Bar of the Year for his Newcastle city centre site Pleased to Meet You​. He said: “We were delighted to win the title, and the awards night was a fantastic celebration for the whole team and still gets mentioned on team events so many months on!”

He said entering the competition was of huge benefit to the business: “Throughout the various phases of entering and judging, it encourages all staff to analyse the business and it’s a great accolade from industry professionals – it gave staff, at all levels, huge amounts of well-deserved satisfaction.”

He said the win also gave the business a great boost and allowed it to generate a “valuable” amount of press coverage, both locally and nationally.

That brand awareness has now helped the business as it prepares to expand: “We are in the process of opening our second Pleased to Meet You (PTMY) site, which will be in Morpeth, Northumberland, and the social media response to the fact the ‘award-winning PTMY coming soon’ was overwhelming.” 

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