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Pub recruitment – raising the bar

13 November 2009 by
Pub recruitment – raising the bar

There's a brave new world of pubs and bars and they're looking for people with personality, initiative and ambition - just like you. Rosalind Mullen reports on the opportunities available.

As you may have noticed, pubs have been evolving. Today's pub is child-friendly, dog-friendly and the smoking ban means they're staff-friendly, too. Some attract young professionals, others cater for partygoers, and while most now serve food, an increasing number are targeting foodies. They tend to be contemporary, relaxed and often quietly stylish. And they are recruiting a new breed of bar person.

Gastropub chain Geronimo Inns, which has a strong culture of training, prefers to recruit for vitality rather than experience.

"We look for humour, confidence and interesting, lively people," says operations manager Ed Turner. "Our pubs attract intelligent locals, so managers need to be able to chat away on interesting subjects."

DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS

In fact, the recession has given the company the opportunity to pick up talent from other industries, such as City banks and marketing firms, which have seen large numbers of redundancies.

The training is unusual and fun, too. Director of food Ray Brown, for instance, takes his kitchen brigades on fishing boats at Hull, to abattoirs in Scotland and encourages them to take part in cheese tastings with customers.

"The whole thing is about lifestyle. It makes it a nice environment," explains Turner.

More unusually for an employer, Turner likes to think his most promising staff will one day go off to start something big themselves. Some 10 managers have left to run their own pubs since the group started in 1995, while other members of the team have gone on to the wine trade, organic suppliers, restaurants and even brand management - companies such as Smirnoff want people who can look at the bigger picture.

"We offer experience and training. If they go off after four years, that's great. Staff can make contacts, learn, be creative, develop their business skills and so on," says Turner."The type of manager we recruit needs to use their creativity. And our challenge is always to have a new project for them."

PERFECT PERSONALITY

But if that doesn't sound like you, fear not. There's a pub to suit every personality across the UK. Local boozers tend to recruit people who can adapt to the community, organise quiz nights and remember regulars' names.

If you want something a bit racier, you could try the fast-paced Revolution Bar chain or Irish-themed Waxy O'Connors. Or there are the family-oriented pub chains such as Hungry Horse, the pubco giants such as Punch Taverns and the independent upmarket pubs such as the Hand & Flowers at Marlow where the focus is on food. Last but not least, there are the slinky, sophisticated bars such as those in top hotels - take inspiration from the Berkeley's Blue Bar or Artesian at the Langham.

Like most industries, pubs have been hit by the recession in the past year, but it's still a multi-billion pound industry and if you choose your employer wisely you'll find it gives you the chance to develop your strengths - and potential.

THE EMPLOYEE

Who? Andrea Solina, 32, general manager
Where? The Avalon, Balham Hill, London SW12
Owned by? Renaissance Pubs

Where are you from?

Sardinia. I came to the UK after my studies in 1997 with a view to staying three months and I have been here for 12 years - although every now and then I need to go home for some sun.

Have you always worked in pubs?

Not always. In Italy I had gained experience in bars and restaurants, but one of my first jobs in the UK was at Costa Coffee, where I became a branch manager.

Then, in 2004 I moved to the Polygon Bar & Grill in Clapham as a waiter and within a year I was promoted to manager.

In 2005, I joined Renaissance Pubs and I've stayed with the company. I started at the Abbeville as assistant manager and five months later I got my first general manager job at the White Hart before opening the Avalon last year.

Is it a long way from what you thought you'd be doing?

Yes. I studied in Italy to be an accountant because I thought it was the right thing to do, but it was a mistake. I can use that training, though, because as a pub manager you need to be good with numbers to generate profits.

Why make your career in pubs, though?

I like the constant contact with people. They're a joy - well, most of them are. I like learning what goes through people's minds and helping them.

What sort of training have you had?

I haven't had any specific management training, but I watched my own managers closely and learnt from their example. I always wanted to know how to make things better, so I kept my eyes open and picked up some good tips.

On a more practical note, I've done cellar training, licensing training, health and safety courses and so on, which are organised by the company.

What qualities do you look for in recruits?

I look for attention to detail and a willingness to progress even if they don't have the necessary skills [to work in a pub] initially. If I see that someone is showing an interest in the business then that inspires me to help them improve and develop with the company.

What are the advantages of working for an independent pub company?

We don't have area or operations managers as we are such a small company. The decision-makers are the owners and I have a direct link with them. That means we can make big decisions quickly.

What are the downsides of a career in pubs?

The hours are anti-social, but you get used to it. There is nothing better than getting up on your day off midweek when everyone else has to go to work.

Will you move on from pubs eventually?

No. I want to open my own business and I'll stick to pubs - I like them.

THE AVALON IN A NUTSHELL

  • Part of independent pub chain Renaissance Pubs, owned by Mark Reynolds, Nick Fox and Tom Peake
  • Besides the Avalon there is the Bolingbroke, the Stonhouse, the Abbeville and the White Hart - all in south London

THE EMPLOYER

Who? Andrew Maillard, 39, director
Where? The Britannia, London E9
Owned by? Imperial Pubs

You've just refurbished this pub?

Yes, I bought it with Cymon Eckel at the end of last year. But I'm a hands-on manager, so I do the front-of-house stuff, such as bar, staff, stock, manager and working behind the bar.

Have you much experience in the industry?

I've been in hospitality for 26 years. I left home at 14 and collected glasses in a pub. Then I took a catering OND at college and studied for the City & Guilds 706-1 and 706-2 in cooking at night school.

So you trained as a chef?

I knew I would have to tell a chef what to do at some stage in my life, so I needed to know what it entailed to be one. I didn't feel I could question a chef's stock or sauce unless I knew how to make it, too. I always felt that I would be a manager one day.

I worked in some hard brigades and it put me off kitchens. But I wanted to be good at my job. If you have that passion and drive you end up in a leadership role.

What makes being a manager or director worthwhile?

This is not the first place I've owned and being a director means I can make changes. I started out by washing pots, and now I get to instil change.

When you are not a manager you often know you are right but are told you are wrong. I am empowered. I have worked very hard to get into the position where I can do it the right way.

And you make more money?

It's not about the money. At the moment I'm earning less than I did 15 years ago - because we've just started the business - but I know that in the near future I will earn more than ever. It's all about investing time and energy - and money.

My wife and I live in the pub so I can pay myself less. Another advantage of living over the business is that you are on hand to sort out problems and see where change is needed. Being an owner-operator you need to keep an eye on things.

What qualities does an ambitious bar person need?

You need spark, passion and common sense. I do lots of training here in the pub (my wife was one of the team that set up the Hoxton Apprentice training restaurant).

Is it a good time to work in pubs?

Pubs provide a better than ever job opportunity because pub companies and owners care about their staff, training and the business.

But it's long hours?

You do work unsociable hours, but it's a very sociable job. Many pubs serve great food nowadays and provide great training. You can use bar skills anywhere in the world - so long as you have a work permit.

How are today's pubs changing?

Well, for instance, we are running a contemporary pub at the Britannia so we have speed pourers for drinks on the bar rather than optics on the wall behind. I come from a bar background and this means the bar person can interact with the customer and make rapport rather than have their back to them. There is a bit of theatre. It's the sort of service you expect in a bar.

We also have a 40-seat bistro serving modern British food, full waiter service and garden grill menu for people eating outside. The aim is to bring improvements into the pub environment.

And what plans do you have to develop staff?

We have people at different stages of development so we will be bringing people up through the ranks. We're about to sign on a new pub in south London and plan to open a further five pubs in the next five years.

THE BRITANNIA IN A NUTSHELL

  • The Britannia is owned by Andrew Maillard and Cymon Eckel
  • Bistro menu created by head chef Tim O'Brien
  • Second kitchen in one-acre garden offers garden grill menu
  • Plans to have seven pubs in five years' time

RECRUITMENT TRENDS

Ed Turner, commercial director at Geronimo Inns, gives his view on how modern pub companies are shaking up the recruitment rules.

You'll fit the bill if you:

â- Are someone they would be happy to invite round to dinner

â- Perhaps want to move on to open your own business, having given a couple of years of great value

â- Show passion - a good company will develop your interests to fit the business

â- Can interact with an increasingly broad range of regulars

You'll move up the ranks if you:

â- Have some financial awareness

Look for an employer that:

â- Develops trainees so that it has a broad range of experienced staff to draw on

â- Treats trainees as managers and gets their opinions through inviting them to join in senior meetings

â- Gives managers resources and lets them detail their pub marketing plans - it ensures ownership

â- Gives its staff regular feedback - annual appraisals just aren't enough

â- Has a good atmosphere - you get it when you work somewhere that you'd socialise

â- Knows that good service does not just come from training; it needs to be personalised

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