Pub Buying Guide: Preparing yourself

So: you’re thinking of buying a pub. Maybe you’ve spent a lot of time in your local; maybe you’ve seen a beloved boozer with a “for sale” sign outside it; or maybe you’ve always wanted to be Peggy Mitchell in your own Queen Vic.

Whatever your motivation, be warned that buying and running a pub is not an easy process, let alone the extra obstacles of alcohol tax, competition from coffee shops and microbreweries, and the fact that it’s frowned upon to pour pints when you’re working.

In this series of articles we are going to run down the considerations you should be making when thinking about buying a pub and, beyond that, what you should be thinking about to keep your business from bubbling under – or, worse, going flat.

Is a pub right for me?

It’s an obvious first question to ask yourself but making sure that you are not just acting on your Queen Vic fantasies is a good place to start in your pub search. If you are anticipating a life of gentle contentment and social drinking with the locals, think again: running a pub is not easy and involves hard work, commitment and sacrifices along the way.

The hours are also usually unsociable and, as you’re facing customers all day, you’ll need to remain upbeat and friendly even when you’re rundown and tired at the end of a huge shift. A bit of experience behind the bar is crucial, just so you know what a belligerent drunk at closing time looks like, or how to pull a pint, before you dive into your own business. Being well-versed in licensing law as well as food hygiene and health & safety practices is also a bonus, too. The National Landlord’s Association (NLA) offers a foundation course for new publicans to develop their professional skills, if need be.

Consider your business partners – if you have them – too, particularly if you are thinking about a joint venture with a spouse or loved one. Hard times can put a strain on any relationship, as can somebody being more enthusiastic about the project than others.

Is it a good time to buy a pub?

Here’s the tricky news. There have been 21,000 pub closures in the UK since 1980; over half of these have taken place since 2006. That’s according to a study carried out by Christopher Snowdown and the Institute of Economic Affairs. For a time, the British pub was considered a “threatened institution” thanks also to rising beer duty, declining alcohol consumption and increased competition.

On the other hand, there are aspects of the industry that make for positive reading. Findings from insurer Zurichs’ latest SME Risk Index show that UK pub turnover has been on the rise for the past three years, during which time half of the pubs recorded were established, most of which by younger landlords. More pub owners than ever before are women, too, with 32 per cent of new landlords being females under the age of 35. According to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), the number of closures is falling, too.

Despite the negative headlines, there is somewhat of a renaissance in the sector. If you think you have a good idea for a business, a good niche to fill or will be serving a criminally under-beered area, then you have every chance of success.

Tune in for next week’s blog to find out how you can find your dream pub – and what different opportunities might be out there.