You’ll find the vast majority of 20-somethings on the receiving end of a pub ID check, quite possibly toasting the end of another working week climbing the post-graduate career ladder, rather than administering one.
Yet while Frances Bishop – a former contestant on The Apprentice – told the BBC in November 2018 that she learnt more working behind a bar than at university, Brewhouse & Kitchen's chief executive Kris Gumbrell lamented the fact that jobs in the hospitality sector are too often unfairly overlooked in favour of paths through higher education and had become “accidental careers”.
However, according to research by Barclays, the number of publicans aged between 25 and 34 rose by almost a quarter between 2012 and 2015 with Stonegate Pub Company, which will become the UK's largest operator after its acquisition of Ei Group, currently employing 97 general managers under the age of 30 – constituting more than one in 10 (13%) of its 764 sites.
MA spoke to nine publicans about how they've forged successful careers in the on-trade in their 20s, and what challenges and opportunities came with taking on their first site before their 30th birthday.
Stephanie Carter, 23, the Church Inn, Swinton, Manchester
“People sometimes say I look too young to run a pub, but that just motivates me to do an even better job than I’m already doing. To run a pub, you need lots of energy and a fresh perspective on things. I eat, sleep and breathe this pub – always wondering what I can do to make it grow further.
“I feel like my age has a major impact on running my pub. Times have changed and a lot of people now turn to social media. Being 23, I’ve grown up with social media, so using it is second nature. Facebook is free advertising and where so many people have profiles, meaning all my posts are seen by my customers.
“I also feel my age helps when bringing new ideas, drinks and concepts to the pub. For pubs to thrive in the future they need a new, fresh outlook and new ideas. I feel like my age makes me more willing to take risks and try our fresh ideas, whereas older publicans might be more cautious.
“The high turnover of employees in the hospitality sector means people sometimes see themselves as a just number and easily replaceable, so don’t dedicate themselves to a job that they fear could be gone within months. But I hope that what I’ve been able to achieve can inspire at least some who join this wonderful industry to appreciate the opportunities it provides, stick with it, learn it inside out, and make a career of it.
“Pubs need a new, young, energetic and enthusiastic generation of publicans to take them into the future.”
James Vincent, 25, general manager, Tap on the Line, Richmond, south-west London
“At 19 years old, I decided to make the decision not to go to university to study speech therapy and work full time until I had decided what I wanted to do. At the time I was working for a Marston’s pub in Hampshire with a young general manager who was 24. She was uncompromising in her standards, very well regarded by her team and customers, and took me under her wing. She progressed me to a supervisor that, looking back, was a very formative time in my career.
“I later got my first assistant manager position at Fuller’s. It was around this point I decided hospitality management was something I wanted to do and, if they said jump, I would say how high? Throughout my time with the company I have had the opportunity to work in a number of businesses and come into contact with many talented people, who have inspired me to become an operator and get my first pub at age 23.
“As a younger manager, change is something that I welcome, and I believe I’m very receptive to feedback. At 25, I am still learning, and I like to take my teams on this journey with me.
“My dad said that he worried life would be harder for me without a degree, but somehow knew that he didn’t need to worry and I would go far in anything that involved working with people.
“From the outside, looking in, hours are long and unsociable, pay is low and people are not easy to deal with. It’s not like anything else and you won’t have much routine. However, there is a reason why bar staff and chefs always know the best places to have a night out and everyone is always smiling and laughing – in my experience anyway.”
Tom Ball, 28, multiple operator, Yorkshire region
“I had my first pub at the age of 18 after working in pubs from the age of 15. From first starting work, I knew I wanted to work my way to the top and have my own pub so I could make it my own.
“I am now a multiple operator with five sites –some with Ei Group and some with Admiral Taverns – and am currently in the process of taking on my sixth. My ambition within the sector is to build my own group of managed houses and give customers a real local pub to visit.
“Being younger makes it a little easier. It is very hard work and most people don't see the effort that goes on when the doors are closed – they only see the pub when the doors are open. The trade is not for the faint-hearted and is a 24-hour job, you never switch off from.
“Most of my friends thought that me getting a pub was brilliant – my parents not so much. They didn't like the idea, only saw the negative sides of having a pub and didn't see that it is a business not just a social job. They could never understand why I would want to work around people drinking and the challenges that come with that. They’re getting used to it now and visit some of my sites when I am there.”
Daniella Parker, 25, general manager, the William Walker in Winchester, Hampshire
“I started my first job when I was 12 in a café local to where I grew up. I instantly found I had a way with people and it never felt like a chore to go to work. As soon as I turned 18, I got a job at a local pub and loved it. Building relationships with the regulars and becoming lifelong friends with the team was the highlight for me.
“I moved to Winchester in 2013 for university and started working at the Bishop on the Bridge pub part time. It turns out I loved working more than being at university, so I decided to drop out and work full time. Within that first year, I took on the role of being a service coach and by the end of the year, I was a trainee assistant manager. Once I had my eyes set on getting my own place that was it – there was no stopping me. I applied for every course that Fuller’s was offering.
“It took me a while to let my family know that I had dropped out of university to work full time in a pub – it wasn’t until I was promoted that I actually told them. I was nervous because I thought they would think ‘oh why have you given up an education to work in a pub?’, however, everyone was great. The consensus was that I was made to work in hospitality as my energy and personality is exactly what a pub needs.
“I was 23 when I first came to run the William Walker and, while that is quite young, the experiences I have had have built me up, ready to take on anything.”
Jamie Hogwood, 25, general manager, Popworld, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire
“I never really envisioned being where I am today – I’m 25, I run my own business and manage 30 members of staff – I’m not sure you could find many 25-year-olds who can say that.
“We’re a late-night venue, so naturally it draws a more youthful team and, being young myself, means I can engage with each and every one of them on their level. It also allows me to understand the customer profile that much better – I’m basically my own target audience.
“Right now, Popworld is still full of challenges – and I have ambitions for my venue over the next few months – but I’ve got my eyes open for a bigger site. In the next five years, I hope I’ll be accepted on to Stonegate’s Aspirations course for aspiring area managers, but where I would really like to end up is in operations and, one day, an ops director.”
Hannah Collins, 28, general manager, the Sparking Clog in Bury, Greater Manchester
“I never really knew what I wanted to do as a career. It wasn’t until I worked at restaurants and had different jobs within hospitality while I was studying at university that I realised I really enjoyed it – I loved the interaction of being able to talk to customers and provide that customer service.
“I joined Marston’s in 2015 as an assistant manager at a pub and, with the help of my area manager, was able to move up to different management roles. In 2016, I was able to work up to become general manager of the Sparking Clog.
“There is still a stigma around hospitality. It’s getting much better – I know Marston’s does a really good apprenticeship programme – but sadly the stigma is still there. I have a masters’ degree and I’ve had people ask me why I then became a pub manager, but they underestimate the role and aren’t fully aware of the opportunities to progress. It is definitely a career and there are many levels to pub management, it’s not just about pulling a pint and serving a plate of food.”
Jon Ward, 28, general manager, the Conductor, Farringdon, central London
“I have been with Fuller’s for almost seven years now and, in that time, I worked my way through the fast-track management graduate programme to get where I am today.
“Since spending my placement year in a craft beer bar in Rochester, New York, back in 2011, my interest in beer, chatting to new and interesting people daily and preparing quality food soared. Pair that with an ambition to run my own business, running a pub with Fuller’s struck me as the best place to develop my skills.
“I became a general manager when I was 25 after three years of the graduate programme. Originally, my goal and ambition was to simply become a general manager, however, since working closely with area managers and executive chefs, I could see myself being in a more strategic operational role, given time and the appropriate assistance, of course.
“Growing up, a career in hospitality was one that never got spoken about or seen as ‘good’ while going through education. Possibly the way a traditional pub landlord is represented in pop culture being quite one-dimensional – think Al Murray, Dirty Den, the Mitchell brothers – could be off-putting. Contrary to this belief, the other GMs I work with come from all walks of life and have a plethora of aspirations and goals of their own. Perhaps certain stigmas surrounding long unsociable hours seem unattractive and people want to conform in their straight-forward, 9-to-5 lifestyle.”
Tommy Parol, 30, the Lord Reresby, Thrybergh, Rotherham, South Yorkshire
“I started working part time in a local working men’s club while I was at college. The landlord left due to illness and, as they didn’t have anyone to replace him at such short notice, they asked if I would be interested in running it until they found someone. Doing the back office work was a challenge to start with because I was thrown into the deep end but I soon became accustomed to it and found my feet.
“I enjoy the bond between myself and the customers most. The Star Pubs & Bars pub I currently manage is where I grew up and my mother still lives across the road now. I grew up with a lot of the customers that use my pub but also a lot of the older customers know my parents so there’s an instant respect between us all. That being said, we welcome new customers every day and I try to build rapport with them as much as I would anyone else.
“Being the heart of the community especially for some customers who unfortunately don’t have much family to interact with is the most rewarding part of the job, no doubt. They use my pub as a place to find company and to have daily communication with someone instead of being on their own at home and appreciate the time you take to ask how they are or talk about current affairs.
“I’m lucky that my family and friends were really supportive about me going into the pub sector. My mother always said ‘do something what people will always need’ and I see that people will always need a place to socialise and relax. The pub is the perfect place to do that.”
Thomas Tomlinson, 29, the Alice Lisle, Ringwood, Hampshire
“Six months after joining Fuller’s at the age of 25, I spotted the Fox & Hounds and was lucky enough to take it on. I was there for three years and we were lucky enough to win Fuller’s best country and village pub in 2019. I felt like I needed a new challenge – a bigger, more complex business – so I moved over to the Alice Lisle, which is a more seasonal site.
“I'm pretty driven to progress as quickly and best as I can. At the Alice Lisle, my goal is to win best country and village pub again within 18 months to two years – then after that to go towards the ops manager route or possibly take on one of Fuller’s flagship hotels.
“I get quite a kick out of being able to develop people. I've been able to do it for a few years – even though I'm still pretty young myself. I tend to get the best out of people and I know that as long as they’re willing to get on board, I will try to progress them as quickly as I can and give them whatever I can to help. It's always about the team.
“I feel getting into trade young had been an advantage as in terms of being able to understand the new generation and being a bit more open minded with trying new things – I know that you always have to try to develop and that standing still isn't an option.”
Interested in working in the pub industry? Then take a look at MA’s jobs site.