It is very hard to stay upbeat at the moment, wouldn’t you agree?
Pubs across the country are still closing at an alarming rate. A good friend who operates a successful leasehold for a large brewer has learned that 40% of its tenanted operations are in need of new operators. We have most definitely heard enough of the ‘B’ word and the continued frustration of not knowing when and if that will happen and indeed what effect that will have on the trade.
Despite the uncertainty in the air, I have picked up a real sense of opportunity too. A feeling among people that, despite the difficulties, they want to go out and meet their friends and have a pint or two or a decent roast beef meal. This year has seen sales increase by a couple of percentage points, it’s not much but it’s starting to go the right way. Customers seem to be venturing out more often too. I have always maintained that there is nothing better placed than a well-run pub to make people feel happier, that is what is needed at the moment; something to make us laugh and smile.
We all have opportunities within our business to make them better. It may be a simple coat of paint or getting the garden tidier. Whether you are freehold, leasehold, tenanted or managed, we have to keep looking at ways to get better.
This is especially relevant as our costs continue to rise. The new minimum wage will have a big impact to the bottom line, which is always pushed. Sometimes it can feel that even buying a tin of paint feels like too big an investment.
I am writing this article while visiting the Pheasant at J14 on the M4, the owner – Jack Greenall – is being very generous with his time and showing me his excellent pub and hotel. Jack has managed to blend an excellent food and drink offering with well appointed rooms, a classic country decor and attentive staff. This has appealed to locals, weary travellers from the motorway and nearby businesses and the horse training yards. The knack of appealing to all is a real skill. It is what makes British pubs so unique.
I am hoping to take the Crown forward in a similar vein by offering rooms and tailoring them to the local shooting and horse racing parties that visit Herefordshire and also to families wanting to explore our fabulous county. It will mean securing investment – worth a lot more than a tin of paint – but I am sure it is the way we need to go.
You meet all walks of life at the bar and a good operator will look after them as equals, keeping them all smiling and cheering them up. I think we can be optimistic about the future but you will have to keep smiling.