Technically a pub needs only the following to operate, the premises whatever their nature, permission to use it as a public house or licensed bar and a named licensed holder for those premises. It can have no stock and no customers as long as it is willing to make a loss. But without that name on the license that pub as a living entity does not exist, the landlord turns the empty structure into a pub, bar, beer tent or nightclub.
The landlord is known by many terms, publican, gaffer, landlord, bar manager, but all equate to the fact that somebody is ultimately responsible for what happens on the premises. The landlord also has the power in many cases to make or break a pub via drinks choice and quality, pricing, opening hours, food provision and their attitude.
You don’t become a landlord for an easy life, there seems to be a rose tinted glasses when people dream about running a pub. It’s generally idealised as serving behind the bar with their mates popping in for a few pints, chatting to the locals etc. This ideal conveniently forgets the early morning cellar deliveries, visits to the cash and carry, cleaning the pipework and pub, the paperwork and administration as well as closing up after the pub shuts. It is a very long working day and not one I envy at all. On top of this there is a substantial investment involved, even to get in on a leasehold basis, with no guarantee of getting it back.
Over the years we will have all had experiences of good and bad landlords and I’m sure that we all have experienced at least one miserable curmudgeon in our time (in my case the Falcon Inn, Arncliffe, Yorkshire Dales) from which typically behaviours found include low social skills, the lack of ability to smile once in awhile and always seemingly wanting to be elsewhere. This makes you wonder why they actually bother to run a public house, as surely a prime prerequisite of running a customer facing business is liking the public.
At the opposite end are those who take personal pride in maintaining a high quality and varied ale selection, of which there are many to mention in my local area, but from a personal point of view Karl at Lewins, Sean at Dirty Dicks, John at the Big Six (all Halifax), Eddie and Claire at the Red Rooster, Mark at the Ship Inn (both Brighouse) and Sara at the Works, Sowerby Bridge. You know when a landlord actively warns you in advance the beer you ordered isn’t as expected (not “off”, but not quite right), they take pride in the job.
In between these two extremes you have guy who runs the local pub, maintaining a good range of beers which he knows will sell with his regulars, often while under the control of one of our big pub companies, who can dictate where they buy their beer, what they have to stock, wholesale prices and rent costs. I’ve known a few landlords who worked under this system and ultimately left the trade. The decision to give up the pub and life they’ve known for years tends to be protracted, as the financial head struggles to overcome the heart in this matter.
Most pubs in this country are still ran under a leasehold in this fashion. A pubs freehold is rarely put up for sale unless it is in a dire state or trading patterns are very poor (the exception normally being when the parent company is struggling financially). Even then it can take a long time for them to ask for a sensible price, my local, the Cock and Bottle went up for auction a year before it was brought, but it took all that time to achieve a price which matched the condition of the property. As a freehold it is now thriving, as do many freeholds when freed to do what is best for the pub, not the owners of the property and lease.
Without landlords our favourite beers, wine and spirits would only be available on a “off-license” basis and where would be the fun in that. It not just about the beer, a lot of the reason for visiting the pub is for a change of scene, the other people who occupy it and of course that that you are made welcome by the staff and management. Whether they are a temporary landlord, one with a single pub, 3 pubs or 20 pubs, they give us the outlets to get our favourite drink on tap or pump.
On that note, I’ll raise a glass and wish you all happy supping.