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What it Takes to Run a Great UK Pub or Bar


LSC Interviews Tim Martin, the Chairman of Wetherspoons, on how to run a great UK pub or bar.

wetherspoon chairman Tim MartinJ.D. Wetherspoons is one of the UK biggest pub chains started in north London in 1979. Their Chairman is self-made and trained to be a barrister. They have over 900 outlets and Tim Martin is a vociferous campaigner for the UK to leave the EU.

Tell us little more about Wetherspoons?

Tim: We started with one pub, but now have many. Our sales per pub are higher than our major rivals. We pioneered non-smoking pubs;  food available all day; a music-free environment; converting shops into pubs; bonuses for (almost) everyone; low prices - and a few other ideas too! Our pub managers have been with us for an average of 11 years and our area managers longer. Two of our board of directors started working in our pubs and our CEO John Hutson as an area manager.

Is the current economic environment good or tough for pubs and bars?

Tim:  The pub business has always been tough. It`s tougher now, mainly due to the tax disadvantage with supermarkets. Pubs pay 20% VAT on food sales and supermarkets nothing. We also pay about 18 pence a pint of business rates and supermarkets pay only two pence or so. This can`t go on….

Even a small scale pub or bar has a million moving parts. How do you assert priorities and yet remain flexible to demand?

Tim:  Prioritise tasks by listening to the comments of customers and staff. If they say it`s too cold, fix the heating. If too hot, open the door….. listen as well to “scuttlebutt”, ie. views from your aunt, uncle, the local newspaper….listen, listen, listen…

And remember, whoever you are, you know damn all about running pubs, same as me. Customers and staff know far more than you or I do….. we have a photo of a Greek chap called Sisyphus on the office wall. He fell out with the gods and was condemned to push a heavy boulder up an endless hill, forever. That`s pubs… but ideas from customers help you to push the boulder…

What are the top 5 priorities in running a great bar?

Tim: Cleanliness

Quality of products


Maintenance - many pubs are poorly maintained

Atmosphere - the X-factor

Which is the most important beer, wine, spirits, non-alcoholic drinks?

Tim: Impossible to say - you can`t do without any…..

What is the hottest drink trend in Wetherspoons currently?

Tim: “Don`t tell my mother,

I`ve taken a lover,

Don`t let the old folks know,

Don`t tell my twin,

I breakfast on gin,

She`d never survive the blow.”

I saw the above on a pub wall once, when I was running my first pub….

Answer: gin.

How important is it for suppliers to consider sustainability and environmental issues to pubs and bars?

Tim: Probably important for humanity generally, so very important for pubs…

Pubs and bars are still closing at 18 per week (CAMRA Aug 2018) – do pubs have a long-term future in the UK?

Tim: Only if we get tax equality with supermarkets.

Are pubs a place to have a drink or centre of a community?

Tim: They`re both.

Recruitment seems to be a big issue in the UK hospitality sector. What strategies and tactics can you use to manage it?

Tim: Recruitment is always a big issue and unemployment is very low today. There is no easy answer, but listening to employees, creating attractive pubs, regular bonuses and free shares all help.

It is impossible to have suppliers turning up with deliveries every 5 minutes. How do you manage range and choice with a limited number of suppliers?

Tim: There are no absolute answers. Sometimes there`s too much choice so ale quality, for example, goes down. Sometimes, there`s too little (hotel bars are usually very poor).

Will Alexa replace bar staff?

Tim:  You`re asking the wrong guy - never use Alexa. But the answer has to be no.

About The Author

Alistair_-Morrell The article is contributed by Alistair Morrell a Wine Inspector, wine industry consultant, journalist and, commentator. Over 30 years as a wine business professional, Alistair shares his global knowledge, network, and experience of growers, importers, distributors and buyers.