What makes a successful pub?

After celebrating our 5th birthday last week, I found out it was my locals 3rd birthday this week. It’s great to see other thriving pubs in the midst of this financial crisis, but what separates the successful pubs from the ever-growing list of closing ones?

It’s tough, and possibly unusual, for a publican to have a ‘local’ that isn’t his own pub. Firstly, just making the time to visit other establishments can be a problem, it’s also not considered the done thing for a landlord to be seen regularly trousered in his own, or any other pub, other publicans may be wary of ‘the competition‘ becoming too familiar, and surely a landlord usually tries to create a place that they would like to visit themselves, so why leave?

I love pubs, I love my pub, but I still love visiting other pubs. You are unlikely to find a journalist who doesn’t read or a butcher who doesn’t eat meat, so it stands to reason that a publican should enjoy visiting pubs. It seems natural to me that I would want what our regulars have, somewhere ‘everybody knows your name‘, somewhere to enjoy a quiet pint, or maybe some banter with good company, but most importantly, somewhere to relax, the latter often being difficult to achieve in your own hostelry.

The Mauldons Brewery Tap in Sudbury is my local, I started visiting shortly after it opened. There’s always a great selection of their own beer plus a good mix of guest ales from around the country. The beer’s always in good condition and with 7-10 ales to choose from at any time and you’re always welcome to ‘try before you buy’. They don’t do meals, but they do a superb filled roll with local ham and cheese or pies from the local butcher, if you’re lucky they’ll have their hot salt beef bap or Donna’s homemade scotch eggs on the boards. The Tap is open all day, so perfect for me to fit in a cheeky afternoon pint and a bite to eat with the usual rabble of 5 o’clock regulars. The Thatchers is closed during the afternoon in the week which allows me the time to frequent my local whilst also discouraging me from getting absolutely hoonered* before starting work in the evening!

There’s never any background music in The Tap, but there’s always a lovely atmosphere. The locals might be firing tales of escapades from the previous night or their working day across the bar. The brewery staff, and owners Steve and Alison who also use the pub, involve themselves in the lively conversations. Alison often sends nibbles round on a Friday early doors such as Phylis’ hot buttered cheese scones. The staff are friendly and attentive, remembering ‘the usual’ for those who have one, and even remembering old favourites for those of us who like particular guest beers. Just the other week I got a text** to inform me an unusual Darkstar beer was on that they knew I’d love to try. There is always something going on, regular beer festivals, a monthly breakfast club, live music, golf society, billiards tournaments, quiz nights and even the occasional curry night or wine tasting.

Is it the beer that makes the pub successful? The welcome or the personal service? Perhaps it’s the events or the extremely well priced nibbles? People always say the key to success is your staff. Not that I disagree, but I do believe the locals should also be recognised. Learning by example from the staff, good locals quickly follow suit, welcoming new customers and recommending drinks rather than the stereotypical ‘Are you local?‘ stare.

So what actually makes any pub successful? It could be one or all of the points above, and a whole raft of others to boot. Is there actually a formula for the perfect pub? In my opinion, thankfully there isn’t. It would make my job very dull, I know I’d miss the daily challenges of such an entrepreneurial trade, and we’d all miss the diversity and personality of our Great British Pubs. At the end of the day it’s the passion and belief in the identity and ethos of the pub. Lead by example from the owners, passed on to the staff and drip fed to the customers.  There are obviously some basics to get right first, but the rest is passion and a big welcoming smile!

I was once told about a small pub co. who took over a nearby pub. The directors were overheard during a strategy meeting discussing implementing aspects of the ‘Thatchers Business Model’. Whilst flattered, it proved to me that they didn’t understand that it is the ‘Thatchers Personality’ that makes people come back to us, not our ‘Business Model’.

Congratulations to The Tap on 3 great years and thank you to all the people who make me want to come back to my local time after time. Happy Birthday!

* hoonered: For a full list of adjectives referring to the state of inebriation read Pete Brown’s Book ‘Man Walks into a Pub

** as I write this blog another friendly text just arrived from Bar Supervisor Sarah to tell me Adnams Pale Ale is on the bar, might have to pop in later today 🙂


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