Reflections on micro pub ownership.

I recently read with interest the experience of our friends at The Wight Bear Micropub and it got me reflecting on our journey over the last year so I thought I’d put my thoughts to Facebook.

Now we as you know didn’t start from scratch so we didn’t have all the ball aching of planning and building work, licensing and planning committee hearings, disgruntled neighbours etc etc to deal with.  We really don’t envy you guys that go through that and we’ve seen how exhausting it was for our friends Craig and Helene at The Georgi Finn and we know the former owners of our place didn’t have an easy ride either.

However buying an existing micro also comes with its own challenges.  Ours was already successful and well loved long before we were on the scene and we know there was a lot of nervousness amongst the regulars about us taking over, we also knew though that we needed to make it ours.

With this in mind our changes have been incremental, decorative, starting with new lighting and a paint scheme.  Gradually over the last 10 months we have changed the pub to a point where it is mostly different and to our taste. The reasons for not doing a wholesale change before we opened were practical in terms of finances and also as not to alienate the locals from the outset.  We didn’t want to stay dark for long, our initial closing was only 4 days, thankfully the pub is micro so we could make real decorative changes in a short space of time.  We really wanted to get the doors open as soon as and the money coming in and we didn’t want people drifting elsewhere.

It’s been a fun, long and exhausting journey but definitely rewarding and we’ve learned a lot of lessons, some of which I will share now.

Don’t be afraid to make your pub your own, don’t pander to others views on what a micropub should or shouldn’t be, it’s your money so do it the way you want to.  What will make your pub interesting is you and the character and personality you bring to it. Someone on one of the Facebook micropub forums said something which I whole heartedly agree with ‘micropubs are like footballs clubs, they attract a lot of armchair managers’.  You’re the brave one though you’ve put your money and livelihood on the line so don’t waver from your vision.

Don’t be scared of bad reviews.  We’ve mostly had exceptionally good reviews since we’ve taken over but we’ve had a few negative ones too from people not happy with the changes we’ve made.

Of course when you’re working your bollocks off and are so tired you want to cry the last thing you need is to read a bad review. My advice is take a breath, read and reread it, write the response you want to write (which in my case normally involves dropping the c-bomb straight up) and then write a balanced response, call them out on inaccuracies and be polite.  You won’t keep everyone happy so what’s the point in trying.  If your beer and service are good, for every customer you lose you’ll gain two more. Also the odd bad review adds balance, a whole ton of 5 star reviews can read like you’ve marshalled friends and family to write them.  If you’ve put off someone who is prepared to write a bad review rather than speak to you face to face then as far as I’m concerned they are no loss to your business.  Also face the fact in the world of real ale there are a hard core of people who go out of their way to be miserable and for these people we keep a tiny violin behind the bar (we really do).

Another of my tips would be to support other local businesses.  We buy most of our ales from local small breweries with the odd national cask every now and then to spice things up.  We also buy our pub snacks locally (we have the best bakery in Worthing right next door).  Also if you’re lucky enough to have other micropubs nearby support each other.  We have three other micro’s in Worthing and I strongly believe we compliment each other and act as a draw for the whole town and we often trade customers between each other as well as our own loyal local following.  This also works for other more conventional independent pubs in town as well, as due to our restricted evening opening we often recommend our patrons who are seeking a late one of the best places to go.

Be prepared to be more tired that you have ever been in your life and kiss goodbye to days off, yes even if you have scheduled time off which you must for your own sanity you will always be on duty, thinking about the place, ordering, taking phone calls, fending sales people off, dealing with social media the list goes on and on.  I am not saying this to put you off just be prepared as owning a pub is not a lifestyle choice it will become your entire life.

Of course it doesn’t matter how tired you are or how rotten you’re feeling never show this to your customers.  They have come to forget their troubles and don’t want to be burdened by yours.  This is where if you have one, your cool room will come in handy.  If someone is getting on your jugs you can go in there and scream and come out all smiles with them never having known the same goes if your arguing with your partner.  John and i have had rows which have lasted all night but have been conducted in the cool room, the customers have of course been oblivious.

You will probably drink less than you have ever drunk.  I believe drinking on duty isn’t a good look.  For that reason we only tend to have a drink once we’ve called time.  I would however say it is lovely to occasionally come in when you’re not on duty and sit on the other side of the bar as if you’re busy it can tend to whizz by in a bit of a blur.  It’s also really nice to interact with your customers without interference and drink in the atmosphere of your pub as well as drink in your pub.  This does mean that I am now an incredibly cheap date as am usually plastered or asleep or both after 2 pints.

So would I recommend doing it?  Hell yes it’s been brilliant.  We are blessed with the best regular customers many of whom I would now count amongst our friends.  Most of them would do anything for you and to me that’s what micro pubs are about.  A stripping back to traditional pub values of conversation and community.  They are the original social services (after the church) and a great way to get to know your community.  I love the fact that people in the area of our pub now know people they lived near for years and will pass the time of day in the street where they once would have walked past each other without acknowledgement.  So before I get soppy which really isn’t me I’ll sign off. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read and continue to enjoy the ride at The Brooksteed.

Viran Chana