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Reflections of a Reluctant Landlady

Updated: Apr 17

The Realities of Pub Ownership and Hospitality Management

A picture of a rabbit staring into the headlights of an on-coming car.

Why do people think that owning a pub is a great lifestyle choice? Many I’ve met embarked on the journey of pub ownership with dreams of financial success, a great social life, and the freedom of being their own boss. While these goals are achievable, the journey often comes with significant personal costs.

For me, becoming a landlady was a decision influenced by family. Unlike others, I didn't enter the world of hospitality management for myself. It was for my son, who was escaping the harsh realities of a ruthless restaurant chain, and my then-husband, who sought a career shift after a lifetime in print. My role was envisioned as a silent partner, juggling my HR consultancy, completing my degree, and enjoying a side hustle in life-coaching.

However, when we opened our pub in summer, the reality of entrepreneurial challenges hit hard. From day one, we were inundated with local customers and a high volume of tourists, short-staffed, and I found myself deeply involved. What I had imagined as a work-life balance was quickly replaced by seven-day workweeks, early mornings, and midnight closes. This stark transition from office work to the relentless pace of the pub was a shock to my system, and although I was loathe to give up my HR and Life-Coaching work, I had little choice, and so became a full-time reluctant landlady. It is fair to say there were times when I felt like a rabbit in the headlights.

Our journey into the pub industry began with a four-year search, marked by false starts, before settling on a 200-year-old coaching inn. The location, on a busy A road, meant it wasn't a destination pub – a prospect too daunting for me at the time, but it still had a rural feel and surrounding countryside. The property had charm, potential for growth, and features like 11 letting rooms, a function room, a restaurant and bar, and a beautiful riverside garden, albeit across a risky road.

An early lesson in lease negotiations with the pub company (pub-co) taught me the complexities of the hospitality sector. Our deal, heavily weighted towards the pub-co, made profitability a distant dream. The pub was tired, grubby, and the rent, which we initially thought reasonable, was actually exorbitant. In hindsight, a more audacious, hard-nosed approach in negotiating would have been extremely beneficial. My naivety and reluctance to be confrontational led to a much less favourable deal.

Despite these challenges, being a pub owner has been an enriching experience. I've relished meeting incredible people, the unpredictability of each day, and learning invaluable lessons about customer service in hospitality and business resilience. However, it was also exhausting and demanding, with profitability often feeling elusive.

For those considering a venture into pub ownership, my journey offers insights into the realities of this demanding industry. Stay tuned for more reflections on my experiences as a reluctant landlady.

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