Running a pub for the first time: do you have what it takes?


Running a pub for the first time 1.3When you’re considering running a pub for the first time, it’s OK to experience pangs of self-doubt. After all, it’s a massive undertaking and there’s lots to learn.

Besides, anyone who enters the trade brimming with misplaced self-confidence, will likely exit the trade humbled and out of pocket.

Long ago, things were much simpler. Being a publican was considered a comfortable retirement proposition. 

But times have changed.

Competition is fierce, and changing economic and social factors have made the situation more challenging for working publicans.

Are you cut out for running a successful pub? Read on to find out…

The 8 personal traits of a successful pub landlord

1. Passion

running a successful pub with passionPassion underpins everything. If you have that innate drive for running a successful pub, then you can find a way to succeed.

Passion is:

  • What gets you out of bed to receive your morning delivery every day

  • What motivates to work bank holidays and open the pub on a Christmas Day

  • What drives you to do whatever it takes to make your customers happy

  • What gets you doing whatever it takes to make your pub a success

When the romantic ideal of owning pub is exposed to the hard realities of day-to-day management, will you still have the drive to do your best?

There’s a blog entitled A Pub Landlady’s Life which offers detailed real-life insights into what it’s like to a be a publican day-to-day. I recommend checking out some of her early blog entries.

2. People skills

Pubs are a people business. You’re serving customers and managing staff. The whole business revolves around social interactions; so if this is something you’re uncomfortable with, then it could be a problem.

Do you have a proven background in communicating effectively with others? Do you have a warm and friendly personality?

It’s worth considering the different aspects of one-to-on interaction. Interpersonal skills include: verbal communication, body language, negotiation, listening and decision-making.

To get you thinking further on this issue, there’s a useful resource at Mind Tools. Featuring a test to evaluate your people skills, it also contains great insights about interpersonal development.

3. Customer service excellence

Running a pub for the first time 2.2Running a successful pub is not just about being able to talk to customers in an engaging and welcoming manner (although that IS very important), it’s also about being determined to provide the customer with what they want.

So, find out what they want. And then go out of your way to give it to them. Every aspect of your business should be geared towards providing the best possible service for your customers.

Be wary of getting wrapped up in your own vision for what makes an ideal pub – it may not be the same as what your customers want.

4. Entrepreneurial flair

Entrepreneurialism engulfs a broad range of capabilities. Here I want to focus on the ability to adjust to trends and take advantage of business opportunities – or even create them.

Every successful business owner needs to keep an eye on the bottom line. Ensuring your pub is a financial success needs be a key drive at all times.

Even if you lack a background in sales, you are now in the business of making sales. BUT, we’re not talking about the hard sell of a telesales company; we’re talking soft, sociable sales.

Here’s an example: I knew a pub that was set inside a small, quiet road. They launched a street party which brought together community groups from the local area and invited anyone and everyone along from the local area. As you can imagine, the pub was heaving with custom!

5. Marketing nous

Running a pub for the first time 3.1Successful pub owners need to be expert marketers. You don’t need to know all the marketing terminology, but you need to be able to identify opportunities and exploit them.

Underpinning great marketing, is an understanding of:

  • Who your key customers are
  • What these key customers want
  • How you can provide what they want
  • How you can reach out to them

Understanding your pub’s catchment area is crucial. Fortunately, we’ve got some advice on how to do that. Check out our guide on how to target the right customers.

There are so many aspects to your pub’s marketing. It encompasses your staff, the decoration of your pub (inside and out), your website and social media, and much more besides.

Practically every aspect of your premises is potentially a pub marketing tool.

6. Financial management acumen

Do you have a background in handling money or careful budgeting? Because when you’re running a pub for the first time, you need to be aware that financial management is a big part of the job.

You don’t need to be a financial expert, but you do need to have: a good (conservative!) instinct for budgeting, a decent understanding of financial management essentials, and – for the more technical stuff – access to an industry-savvy chartered accountant.

Before taking over any pub, you really need to get a look at the previous incumbent’s takings. Breweries and pub companies often help with this if you’re taking on one of their pubs.

7. Attention-to-detail

Running a pub for the first time 4Do you have an eye for detail? If so, that will put you in good stead for when your running a pub for the first time. It underpins your capacity for shrewd financial management, and your ability to understand and provide for your customer-base.

If you’re the type who likes to act on instinct, it’s crucial that you’re able to develop your analytical side as well.

Running a pub for the first time requires in-depth consideration and business planning. This should be reflected in the pub business plan, which in itself is a huge step towards making your dream of running a pub a reality.

Our in-depth resource: ‘How to run a pub: the definitive guide’ offers a full list of what’s involved in running a pub.

8. Ability to work unsociable hours

While this is a very specific point, it is one which every prospective pub owner must consider. As pub landlord – or landlady – you will need to work at times when friends and family are having their leisure time. Weekends, evenings, public holidays, even Christmas day!

Are you prepared to do this?

Do you feel ready to run a pub?

Whether you’re running a pub for a brewery, pub company or as a freeholder; all these points are equally valid.

There are some skills which CAN be learnt. Taking a primer in financial management, enlisting on a people management course, or learning about marketing…  It all helps prepare you.

However, that innate quality to converse with people in a welcoming way, that passion for customer service, and your ability to sacrifice for the cause of business success… These are innate qualities which are hard derive from a textbook.

Are you someone who is thinking of running a pub for the first time? If so, we’d love to hear from you. 


Image ‘Question Mark’ by Marco Belluci CC

Image Passion 1 by Francisco Osorio – CC

Image ‘Pig and Whistle’ by JaggeryCC


  1. hi, just started running a pub in a very culturally mixed semi bohemian area. We have regulars but would love to attract new customers. Finding it difficult making sure staff are being honest (fiddling till and stock etc.) , and changing image and direction the pub. would be grateful of any advise and happy to offer any.


  2. Hi Saul, thanks for taking the time to comment. It sounds like you have a couple of issues to tackle, it’s best to do each in isolation. I would say the best course of action is to solve the staffing issue first. You have to take a hard line with dishonest staff, (make sure you have irrefutable proof before taking action). Once you have staff that you trust you can get on with the task of attracting new customers. The first step in attracting new customers is to figure out who your target customers are. Then visit the pubs they frequent in your local area, what is the difference between your pub and theirs? Also try to survey them to find out what they want in a pub.

    From there you can start to introduce the things you learnt in your pub. Always try to get contact details so you can keep people updated of the changes you make. It’s a constant process of listening to customer demand and trying things out to see if they work with your customers. Hope this helps, good luck with the new venture.


  3. Something I really need to work on before starting a pub is my “marketing nous.” I know who I want my customers to be but I need to start finding out what they want and how to provide that. What are some good ways to find out what would attract potential customers to my pub?


    1. Hi Grace, that’s a great question.

      I would say there are a variety ways of discovering what customers want. In fact we’ve written an article which discusses this subject:

      A great place to start is the cafes and pubs already in the area. Which ones are most popular? Why are they popular? And what can you provide that they don’t?

      On the other side of the coin, which cafes and pubs are not so popular? And why?

      It’s also good to have discussions with people in the area by joining local community groups, speaking with local business owners, and generally being sociable and chatty with people.

      And always remember that although you may know who you want your customers to be, it’s the people living in your catchment area who will ultimately be your target customer.

      Hope that helps.


  4. Hey, thinking about leasing a small pub to start of the land land career. Never done this before. Any advice?


    1. Hi Avril,

      It’s good to hear from you. Well there’s a lot to cover but I recommend reading 2 key articles to get you started:

      How to run a pub: the definitive guide

      Pubs for lease, tenancy or freehold: What’s your best option for owning a pub?

      The first article will give you a summary of all the different things you need to be aware of before running a pub, while the second one takes you through your options for owning a pub.

      If you have any further questions feel free to get in touch.



  5. I have been considering it for some time but the internet seems to be full of horror stories particularly of the big pub companies and how they cause ruin.


    1. Hi Steve, you’re absolutely right that ruthless pubcos and brewery firms are a problem in the industry.

      That’s why it really pays to get independent professional advice before buying a pub or entering into a tenancy agreement.

      There are a number of solicitors specialising in the pub trade who will take a detailed look at tenancy agreements and advise on the best course of action.

      Yes, getting legal advice means more upfront costs – but it’s more than worth it in the long term. Plus many will offer a free initial consultation.

      And remember: be wary of the pubco (or sales agent) who tries to rush you into entering an agreement! Take your time and be meticulous.


  6. Hi

    Can one live off site if you have a family, young child? Vicki


    1. Hi Vicki,

      I’m assuming you are talking about a tenancy or leasehold arrangement with a Brewery/Pubco…

      It depends on the agreement you sign with the Brewery/Pubco. Most agreements will make some mention of living on-site due to insurance and security concerns. Check the agreement for mention of living arrangements and confirm your intentions to live off site with your legal representative to make sure you are not breaking any clauses in the agreement.

      Hope this helps.



  7. Hi we have taken over a pub for the first time, some of the customers have stopped coming in due to the change of owner, is this normal , is there a period of time that takes everything to settle down?


    1. Hi Steve,

      It really depends on the circumstances. A couple of things to consider:

      1. Have you made any major changes to the pub and it’s food or drink offering? I.e. is there something they’re no longer getting at the pub which they liked before?

      2. Were these customers friends of the former landlord? It’s possible that these customers were loyal to the former landlord and without that friendship bond will now feel free to tour other pubs.

      BUT, if you provide a better customer experience than your competitors, I’m sure they can be tempted back!

      Let us know how you get on.



  8. Hi, I’m 22 and have wanted to be a Landlord since I was about 16 and I really knew what I wanted to do, I haven’t been to university and done a hospitality course as I have recently just completed an apprenticeship doing accountancy. Will I still be able to become a Landlord without that experience and what/how can I go about getting the relevant experience I would need so I could become a Landlord as soon as I could be


    1. Hi Ryan,

      A hospitality course can be useful but it’s not essential. The best thing you could do right now is a get a bar job(s). This way you can get some hands-on experience of working in the pub trade. It also means you can talk to a working publican and get their advice and insights.

      Thankfully, getting a bar job shouldn’t be too difficult… Many people who work in pubs are part-time temps who are studying and simply using it as a side income.

      By emphasising your passion for the trade – and desire to become a pub landlord – you can make a really convincing case to a potential employer.

      There are also plenty of temp catering/hospitality recruitment agencies who need workers. They can be useful for building up a wide range of experience in the hospitality trade.

      The fact that you’ve studied accountancy is a big plus. Publicans need to have a head for figures and a solid working knowledge of their accountancy and tax responsibilities.

      Best of luck!


  9. […] if you’re planning to be running a pub for the first time, there should be things that make you a good […]


  10. Well, well. Here I am. My extended family started a successful brewery a number of years ago and have just asked me if I’d like to manage a pub for them. They want to expand and need more hands on deck. I’ve been a professional for decades and hadn’t thought about this type of work. I did the usual bar work as a student a million years ago. I have a lot of questions for them, but I would not say “no” outright! I’m reading a few blogs and articles such as this to get an idea. Do I imagine it being romantic? Oh, hell no! I know better. I’m old enough and ugly enough to know that life doesn’t work like that. Working with/for the brewery owners, helping them expand their existing profitable business, I feel that we have some good assets already in place. Just wanted to thank you for the piece, and your contributors for their comments. I’m heading off to some of the links you suggest. I’ll be back!


    1. Thanks Whistler, I’m glad you’ve found this useful. All the best!



    2. You have shed a ray of sunshine into the subject. Thanks!


  11. Joanne Richards-sambrook March 8, 2017 at 5:21 pm

    Hi I need help on where to start from scratch. I have previously worked in pubs but not run one. I don’t have any investment to make at the moment so is it possible to pursue the dream?


    1. Hi Joanne, thanks for getting in touch. If you’re really keen to run a pub but don’t have the money to invest then you should look into a ‘tenancy at will.’ These are short-term tenancy agreements with minimal outgoings. You can try contacting local pubcos and find out whether they have any tenancy at will opportunities available.

      For more info, the BII has a useful factsheet:

      Another option is to run a managed pub.




  12. Karen Burnett March 9, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    I co managed a pub a few years ago with my eldest son, which was successful until the brewery sold it. I now have a personal licence and am interested in getting back into the pub trade. I know how difficult it can be but feel that between myself and my son we are ready to take on the role in a more permanent way


    1. Hi Karen, it sounds like you’ve got a strong foundation to make your next pub a success. We’d love to know how you get on!




  13. Hi Tom, my wife and I have a dream of owning our own country pub. We don’t have any experience, but know we could make a success of it. I have worked in sales or my life and my wife in the legal profession, we both are real people, people. Thing is, we don’t know where to start. How much upfront capital on average would you say we needed to make our dream a reality?

    Any advice you can give us would be fantastic. Thanks in advance.



    1. Hi Dan,

      Your question almost slipped the net. The amount of upfront capital required will depend on the value of the property and whether you plan to operate a tenancy, leasehold or freehold property.

      Ingoing costs can vary massively so it’s impossible to put a figure on it. For example, ingoing costs for a tenancy can start anywhere from £20,000 upwards. While freehold properties run into the millions.

      If you need more in-depth information you might find this article useful:

      Alternatively, we’ve launched our pub landlord academy which will answer these questions (and much more) in greater depth:

      Hope that helps,



  14. Iv worked in pub most of my life and I would love to become a landlady but don’t know how to go about it


    1. Hi Barbara,

      Having worked in a pub for a long time, you’ll likely possess good knowledge of customer service and the various bar operations and procedures – and that’s a pretty good starting point.

      If you have a good relationship with the landlord, you can talk to them about their work, gain some insights into the realities of being a pub landlord – and how they got into it.

      You might also be interested in our email series aimed at people who want to become pub landlords (go to our homepage, scroll down and you’ll find a link to our 17 Chapter guide).

      All the best,



  15. Hi,
    I am new to all these, but really need a change in my life. Been doing customer service now for 13 years. I have an NVQ 3 in business admin. I have also done finance at the company where I am, also know how to figure out what needs to be changed. I would love to be a landlady and run my own pub. But not sure where to start!



    1. Hi Lorraine,

      You’ve got a range of skills and experience which will certainly come in handy for running a pub.

      Feel free to subscribe to our updates and we’ll send you a range of useful articles designed to help guide you through the process of running a pub for the first time.




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