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5 Tips on How to Make a Failing Pub Successful

Updated on February 23, 2017

Who I Am and How I Can Help You

As all good articles start with the phrase "My name is," I guess it would be wrong to try any other tactic, and thus, my name is Kris Goddard. I am a pub landlord and have been in the industry for almost 6 years. Throughout my time I have had leases, worked for holding companies, and managed bars for larger chains. In my time I have picked up many tips and tricks of the trade and now use all the resources I can in order to run a very successful pub in Buckinghamshire.

The pub industry has taken a turn for the worst over the past few years. As we see rising prices for almost everything in day-to-day life, many bars have been hit hard as it has become considerably cheaper to buy alcohol from a supermarket. So do your few loyal customers still come to your pub? Put simply, it's for the atmosphere and the social networking.

In this how-to, I'm going to suggest some excellent ideas that I have seen work in many of the bars I have managed. With that said, you have to employ the age-old saying that you need to "speculate to accumulate."

5 Steps to Making a Failing Pub Successful

Presentation is key and your staff needs to appear happy even if they're not. Encourage them to converse with customers and make friends with them.
Presentation is key and your staff needs to appear happy even if they're not. Encourage them to converse with customers and make friends with them.

Step 1: Finding the Man for the Job

As a boss, it's very hard to find a happy medium between being a slave driver and a friend. I've always thought that you should enjoy going to work because if you don't, you won't perform to the best of your ability.

Interview

When I interview for staff I ask all the foolproof questions you would expect to hear in a standard interview and from that I create my shortlist. I tend to look for people that are confident, well-presented, and aspire to run their own pub in the future. You have to be a little careful as you want somebody that wants the job rather than your job, otherwise they'll often prove to be a know-it-all and be quite lazy.

When to Do a Test-Run

I then call everybody on my shortlist back to have a trial shift in the bar. You don't want them to run an empty shift because you'll learn nothing about them, but chucking them in on a Friday or Saturday night on an unfamiliar bar will also teach you nothing. I find that pool or darts league nights are often good nights to use as they'll have teams buying big rounds, giving them a small amount of pressure. You'll also have a small band of locals who can "interrogate" your potential employee.

Get the Locals Involved in the Hiring Process

On this kind of night, I would expect them to get involved with the locals and play a part in their conversations. This shows me that they will fit in and are confident. At the same time, however, I would expect the potential employee to actively watch the teams and ensure that when they come to the bar to order a round, they don't have to shout for attention or wait for conversations to end. Always ask you locals who they prefer. You need to keep them sweet and ensure they are happy with the person pouring their pints or they'll soon disappear.

Dress to your customers and don't try to be something you're not. It's all about your intended audience.
Dress to your customers and don't try to be something you're not. It's all about your intended audience.

Step 2: Who Are Your Customers?

All landlords need to gauge exactly who their customers are. Is your bar in a wealthy area, the middle of a council estate, or the middle of town? Wherever your pub is, you need to ensure that you are putting across the right image.

My pub is a country pub surrounded by a small village filled with wealthy people. There is a good base of local businesses, so I insist that my staff wear proper clothes: a nice dress for the girls, and shirt and trousers for the boys. I am often asked why I do this because most of my customers come in wearing casual clothes. My answer is simple: I serve reasonably expensive food and my beer isn't exactly cheap. I ensure that my pub is always spotless and that my staff always look their best or they go home. I clean my lines every time I change a barrel to ensure that the beer always tastes as good as it can, and it keeps my customers happy. They walk in to find a well-presented and cheerful member of staff serving great tasting beer and food in a clean environment, and for that taste of luxury, they pay the extra few pence rather than going down the road to have beer that isn't as nice and miss out on the friendliness of my staff.

Step 3: Throw an Event or Host an Activity

What are you doing to get customers in? I try to accommodate all customers by having something on every night except Thursdays which I use to sort out any issues and occasionally throw a ladies' night, host Avon or Ann Summers parties, etc. Below is the format I use:

Bar/ Pub Activities Schedule

Day of the Week
Activity
Monday
darts or pool league
Tuesday
poker night
Wednesday
darts or pool league
Thursday
 
Friday
disco
Saturday
live music
Sunday
meat raffle with other games such as "Play Your Cards Right" in the day and Quiz for the evening

I find this to be very successful and it is topped up by football and rugby matches. I also try to push the Formula 1 on a Sunday, which drags in a few extra punters that often wind up getting involved with the meat raffle.

Pool and Darts

The pool and darts run winter and summer leagues in all areas across the UK and choosing which day to host this depends on your area. You'll often have to serve some food, and I find a good curry or chili dish goes down well and is cheap to make. Try not to make it too hot; you want it to be edible. Get it right and you may get a few extra drinks purchased.

Cards

On poker night, it's straight Texas hold' em. ₤5 buys in with the winner taking 90% and second place taking the other 10%. You make no money from the games, but you get the money from beer and bar snacks on a good night. I get anywhere between 60-70 people coming in to play, and it makes a huge difference to the 10-20 you'd normally have in.

Dancing

Friday night discos can be hit and miss. You need to find out the types of music your customers like and brief your DJ on this. Remember that pricing isn't everything. A good DJ will involve your customers and make the evening, whereas a cheap DJ will often set a playlist on his laptop and remain quiet for the entire evening.

Live Music

Live music is always appreciated. I try to mix it up but at the same time, call back bands that have done well. I have incorporated a few open mic nights into the mix and often look for up-and-coming bands, often asking my customers for recommendations. Most people know someone in a band and if they've recommended it, they will try to get as many of their friends up for the evening.

Raffles

The Sunday meat raffle is an awesome day. I always try to strike a deal with my local butcher in order to get a small discount in exchange for a few shoutouts across the event. Just grab some real nice joints, sausages, etc. and sell raffle tickets throughout the day. I put on smaller games like "Play Your Cards Right" for a cash prize, and I also do a mystery box game (9 boxes all containing an envelope with a prize on the paper inside). The prize could be a bag of pork scratchings, a beer, or all the way up to a cash prize. Again, you sell tickets and the cash prize is the total money from the tickets. It should be one winner per week, and the cash prize rolls over if it isn't won. I've seen it top ₤1000 pounds before. Once your customer has picked a box, you can try to buy the contents from them for cash or bribes such as snacks. They can then deal or see the contents of their box. To make it fair, have someone else put the prizes in the envelopes so that whoever is trying to buy the box doesn't know what's in it.

Game Nights

Sunday night "Quiz" is also a big hit, and I get around 60-70 people coming in. While most won't drink too much, it's all money in the till. I have a Quiz master who runs the Quiz every week and includes video and music clips to keep interest. The format is teams of a maximum of 4 with each player paying ₤2 entry. We cap the prize money at ₤100 and the Quiz master takes the rest as his fee. I have found this works well because the Quiz master will do all he can to draw people in as what he takes is dependent on the Quiz's reputation. It also costs you nothing.

Step 4: How Clean Is Clean?

Indoor Area

Cleanliness is often overlooked and a quick wipe down and hover is deemed acceptable. It's not. When I go to a bar or restaurant I don't want to see piles of empty glasses on tables or dusty bottles behind the bar. Furthermore, if I'm going to eat, I often check out the toilets before ordering. Toilets are often forgotten about, but no customer should ever have to come and ask you for hand wash or toilet paper. Your toilets should be as clean and well-equipped as your kitchen and bar.

A Pub Dog

I've also found that a pub dog is very well-received, but you can't have him/her wander into your restaurant and beg for food, and a customer doesn't want to find dog hair in their glass or on their table. So if you opt to have your loyal companion in the bar with you, you must ensure you keep him and the areas he's allowed in clean. Dog obedience is also key. While most customers will have no problem with a dog jumping up at them when they arrive, some will — especially those in suits or on their way out for the evening. So make sure your dog knows the drill and does as he/she is asked. I am often asked if customers can give him a treat and my answer is always yes, but I ask them to make him perform in order to get it. Simple commands like sit, lay down, or paw are favourites and very easy to teach any dog.

Outdoor Area

When it comes to the outdoor area, have a good sweep around everyday and ensure that all cigarette butts and boxes are picked up and ashtrays emptied. Flowers and a lick of paint go a long way towards drawing people in, especially those that drive by as they will always comment "that pub looks nice." It could be the difference between them taking the plunge to pop in or heading home to their local bar. Your outside areas should also be well lit at night because without it your pub may as well be invisible. No lights will also be a hazard for those leaving the pub in the dark. Ensure all your grass is cut. Even in the winter, you need to keep on top of garden areas. Don't let them slip and they will be easier to maintain. Tidiness will also earn you a good name as a pub that takes pride in its appearance.

Step 5: Where to Advertise Your Pub

Online

Advertising for a pub is a hard one. A dedicated website is often expensive and of little benefit, but you should encourage customers to rate you on sites such as:

  • beerintheevening.com
  • thegreatfoodguide.com
  • thegoodpubguide.co.uk

These are respected sites that allow the public to rate you and could gain you a few extra customers.

Signs and Boards

Getting A-boards outside is great advertising. Try to avoid changing colours on every letter as it gets hard to read for those driving past. White is the most visible colour you can use. Make the wording big and ensure you advertise bands and events weeks in advance. I ask bands if they have posters so I can put them up. If they don't have any, I'll fire up the computer and make one myself.

Magazines and Newspapers

Try to get involved with groups such as camra.org.uk (the campaign for real ale) because you will be included in their magazines. You should contact your local paper every time you host an event as people who don't know what you're doing may see the article and pop in to find out what's coming soon.

Flyers and Deals

If you are trying to start your kitchen up, try having some flyers made to hand to local businesses, and tell them that anyone who brings back the flyer will receive 5-10% off their food order. Not only will this gain you a few extra people, but you will get your flyers back for you to reuse. Here's an additional tip: when you save money on your products pass the savings on. For example, if the brewery gives you 50% off vodka, order a few bottles and give your customers 20% off. While you can't always have a promotion, it shows that you're loyal to your customers and that you're not just another money-hungry businessman. When I hold such promotions, I find that customers often ask why. I simply tell them the brewery had a deal, so I've passed it on to them. This will earn you a great name in the community.

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth is also great advertising, so get your locals on your side. Engage them in conversation and if it's quiet grab a drink and sit with them for a while. Always ask them what they think of what you're doing, and if they have any suggestions for you. The crucial thing to remember is that bad news spreads faster than good news, so ensure that if you are going to try something, you do it as best you can. Also, never trouble your customers with your problems — but always lend an ear for theirs.

Maintaining a Successful Pub

You won't get anything for nothing in life, and if you want to succeed, you need to work really hard. The pub trade isn't for the faint-hearted. You always have to invest to get a return, but you need to build things up slowly as there is very little point getting into debt. Breweries often have promo gear up for grabs, so ask them and feel free to ask me any questions you may have.

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      Sheree 18 months ago

      hi Kris

      My partner is 3 .5 yrs into a 5 yr lease. The pud is in a small town not very afluate but up until 6 -10 moths ago was able to keep his head above water and was doing ok. All you advise he has always done, as the main pull to the pub is his beer and real ale which is always not notch and has been recognised by camra, he has darts, pool, football teams good entertainment on a Saturday.........it's always worked just fine, but people are not coming out anymore! Any advise?

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      Tobias 19 months ago

      Hello Kris, I am looking for some holding companies who pay the manager on a percentage of what the pub takes, do you know any please?

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      Kris Goddard 20 months ago from Reading, England

      Hi Dan,

      With the way the industry is going getting in on a management contract as you described is probably one of the best ways to go. Breweries won't close the pubs they own if they remain profitable and so that is your main challenge. Things to bare in mind are;

      - You need to pay your staff before you see any of the money -

      I often found myself working Monday to Sunday, open till close. I said to myself that I wouldn't hire anybody unless a shift paid for itself, but that could mean you're working 7 days a week for a few months whilst you build the trade.

      - The brewery will provide you no budget for entertainment or cosmetic work -

      This means it's coming out of your pocket. Finding the right type of act for your venue will require a little trial and error, I probably wouldn't listen to Dave who sits at the end of the bar either. The performer he's recommending probably played at your venue once, wasn't that popular and that was probably 4/5 years ago now.

      I hope these couple of pointers help, keep your chin up, if you work 7 days for £100 remember what you'd pay in rent for the space you have above you (they're usually huge!), maybe try renting the rooms out, B&B style or to friends.

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      Dan 21 months ago

      Hello, excellent advice!!

      I am just moving into my 1st pub next week, I have lots of experience in the industry and a good network. Looking forward to getting moved in. And hopefully one day become a leading light for the industry, pubs and ale such as yourself.

      I do have 2 quandaries about my specific situation, hope you can help Kris....

      I have entered a retail agreement with a substantial brewer, they buy the stock, I pay myself and the staff from a % of the turnover. I live above rent free, do you see any major pitfalls with this agreement??

      Also I have a limited selection from a brewery who is not so local, FYI the local brew scene in Manchester is booming, and I can't help but feel I can only miss out on this.

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      Kris Goddard 22 months ago from Reading, England

      Running a Pub (or similar hospitality business) is not easy and certainly not for those looking for fun. Running a pub can be rewarding and enjoyable at times but for the most part it's long hours, potentially very boring and repetitive.

      If you're very wealthy then I'd assume you have a good business head or work very hard? If you have a good business head then you'll know not to buy or invest, as it won't be fun at all when you have an interest in the establishment. If you're the hard working type ask if you have the time to open and close a bar everyday, clean everyday, do accounts everyday? Do you know trustworthy staff so you can still work at whatever has made you wealthy?

      These are just a few questions you should start thinking about, hopefully more will come as you answer.

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      Kris Goddard 22 months ago from Reading, England

      Hi Adrian,

      Trying to re-invent the wheel is a bit of a lost cause, you could waste a whole lot of time exploring new ideas to get customers back when really you should be finding out why they left.

      Is the pub 2 doors down 10p (Cents I guess for you) cheaper?

      Is the bar maid more attractive?

      Is there more parking?

      Spend some time in each venue and work out why people have chosen that particular venue over your own. If it's not obvious it could be as simple as, "They're new and therefore exciting". If so, get the paint cans out.

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      Davey Hiltz 23 months ago

      Sounds like quite the chore to run one. I'm actually thinking about investing a bit into a pub with some other friends of mine. Partly because we're very wealthy, but partly because we just want a place of have fun. We'll have to take turns running it, but it'll be fun to try out.

      http://www.jphotels.com.au/index.php/listings/prop...

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      Adrian 2 years ago

      Trying to reinvigorate my weekend trade which has taken a huge hit due to a plethora of new places opening both two doors down and all around town (in australia). Haven't changed much; still have live bands etc...just not getting the customers...any ideas

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      Kris Goddard 2 years ago from Reading, England

      I'm glad that the article has been of use to you, if you would like any more targeted help just let me know your specific problems and I'll try to think of a solution.

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      Kris Goddard 2 years ago from Reading, England

      Lots and lots of white paint, very cheap to buy and brightens the whole place up instantly, wine drinkers seem to enjoy the lighter, cleanly styled pubs and a sure fire way to sell more wine is the be polishing a wine glass at all times whilst idle. The wine idea, should use subliminal messaging (seeing the glass and the fact that its so shiny and clean because you've been polishing it for the last hour looks great) to influence customers into buying wine.

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      Mark Triggs 2 years ago

      Hi Kris

      Looking to take over a local village pub where I grew up so taking in all the advise we can , got some great information from your article thanks

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      Daniel cobbs 2 years ago

      Hi Kris, I've recently moved into a new pub to try to pick up trade after they cut the 50p camra discount, i want to try and attract new custom such as the wine drinkers and lager drinkers as we are very much a real ale pub. Any ideas??

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      Kris Goddard 2 years ago from Reading, England

      Western Inns used to cover London and High Wycombe, I've seen a few adds on Gumtree for live in managers recently too.

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      tobias kerins 2 years ago

      hjey Chris, got anyu names of any holding cmpanies covering London and the southeast, desperately looking to get back into work

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      Kris Goddard 3 years ago from Reading, England

      Whilst I wouldn't suggest this as being the best move for your business, a simple price increase should keep the lower end of the market from passing through your doors. By hiking the price up though you must be sure that you can facilitate the needs of the higher class and that every aspect of your business scream quality, you wont keep high end clientele if you're handing out free business cards from Vista Print or your food shouldn't be fed to the dog. The process will seem slow but if you can hold out and survive the inevitable quite period you should see the desired customers walk through your doors.

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      Kris Goddard 3 years ago from Reading, England

      Its a sad fact that pubs are dying at the moment, that doesn't however mean that there aren't pubs that are still thrive. The best advice I can give at the moment is that you should embrace your local area and become something of a public figure, That way you can socialize with your target audience and cater to their specific needs.

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      D4 3 years ago

      What would you recommend for a hotel bar .. I find its hard to change between an upper class cliental as opposed to a younger crowd. At the moment we are in the middle

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      RichardS 4 years ago

      Going through a divorce and other than working behind a bar 20 years ago, most of my experience in pubs is the other side of the bar. Thinking of using the settlement from the divorce to buy a pub lease(I am a professional in advertising so it's a big career change). The pub two doors down from me has had 8/9 landlords in the last 8/9 years, none of which have made the place pay...... I am up for a challenge, but don't want to flog a dead horse...are pubs dead?

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      Kris Goddard 4 years ago from Reading, England

      Once again I'm happy to have helped, such small steps can make the world of difference to your business.

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      Kris Goddard 4 years ago from Reading, England

      No trouble at all, it can be quite daunting and its amazing how a little subliminal messaging can help

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      Kris Goddard 4 years ago from Reading, England

      Glad to have helped

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      michael gaffikin 4 years ago

      Great advice, opening my first bar and this has really helped :D

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      Andy Butcher 5 years ago

      Just looking at taking on my first pub and your advice has been really valuable and given me lots to think about. Many thanks.

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      RB 5 years ago

      excellent advice! one of the best bit's of advice I've read so far... well done & many thanks!

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