There's something magical about working in the pubs and bars sector that lures people from all walks of life. But what really seduces them are the opportunities for career development. Rosalind Mullen reports
There is so much more to working in a pub or bar than pulling a pint or exchanging banter with the regulars. While you'll certainly need talent in both areas, those of you with ambition will also face challenges such as managing profit and loss accounts, handling budgets, managing staff, learning about food, wine and beer, and working with suppliers.
The good news is that you can learn all this on the job. If you join a company that's committed to training, you'll find the opportunities are great, taking you through to general manager level and beyond. Of course, if that's your goal, it's crucial to find an employer that offers a structured management development programme, such as Geronimo Inns, McMullens or any of the employers below. Indeed, the good news is that this is available across the spectrum, from the large corporate to the smaller chains, as well as many independent operators.
What you might also want to consider is the type of environment that suits your personality. The local boozer still exists, of course, but nowadays the choice extends from gastropubs, family friendly pubs, chic neighbourhood pubs and Irish-themed pubs, to slinky bars, party bars, restaurant bars and beyond.
And while we've mostly spoken to managers and bartenders in our case studies, you'll find that the sector offers opportunities to so many more of you, from area managers, finance directors and HR managers in the giant pubcos, to top-level chefs and wine gurus in the niche operations.
The independent gastropub
Who? Jessi Borhart, 29
What? General manager
Where? The Bolingbroke, London
Which Company? Renaissance Pubs
Do you have formal hospitality training? No. I'm from Chicago, where I studied communications, philosophy and art - so, nothing to do with hospitality. I came to the UK to do a masters degree in contemporary history.
So, how did you get into this industry? Well, as a student I always worked part-time in hospitality bartending and waitressing.
By the time I got to the UK, the job market in the art world was kaput, so I decided to go into hospitality full time. The money was good and I enjoyed bartending.
Tell us about your time at Renaissance Pubs I've worked here for three or four years. I started at the company bartending at the Abbeville in Clapham and then moved to the Bolingbroke in Battersea when it opened in 2008.
How did you progress? Slowly as people left. I was first promoted to assistant manager and then trained to do a general manager's job, moving up to the role in 2009.
What other training have you had? Suppliers come in and teach us about wines and beer. I have learned every aspect of profit and loss and as this company runs gastropubs I've slowly learned about back of house, talking to chefs and learning on the job. A lot of this job is instinctive - life training. All the general managers in the company have been helpful, too.
Presumably in pubs you have to deal with difficult customers? We don't get many rowdies here. It's a residential area. The rowdies we get are 40-year old mums having a night out.
What's it like working while everyone else is enjoying themselves? The hours can be long, but I like this job because of its flexibility. You have to be here Saturday and Sunday, but you do get personal time and different hours.
What part of the job gives you personal satisfaction? I like coming in on a Monday morning and looking at the figures for the previous week and the guest comments. It's great to see improvements week on week and to see the staff doing a good job. It gets me motivated.
Do you recruit people with no experience? Yes, we've hired people with no experience, which can be useful because you can train people the way you want. Conversely, some of our staff have worked on cruise ships so they have vast experience. In general, recruiting someone with some knowledge of the business is better because we are very hands on.
What's the next career rung for you? As an American I have limited time here. I guess I would like to do more pub openings but I will probably end up in Oz with my partner. Our dream is to take our knowledge and open our own place.
Renaissance Pubs - the nitty gritty
â- Five stylish pubs include the Stonhouse, Abbeville, Avalon and Tommyfield.
â- Emphasis on food driven by executive chef Massimo Tebaldi.
The heavyweight pubco
Who? Fay Hargreaves, 20
What? Team leader
Where? Heath Farm, Fayre & Square, Congleton, Cheshire
Which Company? Punch Taverns
Can you tell us a bit about your job? I've been working in the industry for three years and I love it. As team leader I act as duty manager, handle cash and deal with customer's problems. I report to the deputy manager and general manager. Under me I have 10 to 15 people.
And you helped pilot the company's apprenticeship scheme? Yes. The NVQ level 2 apprenticeship programme was launched a year ago and I signed up. I was highly commended in the Apprentice of the Year awards and I was asked to attend a parliamentary reception to represent Punch's apprenticeship scheme. I went with a colleague, Josie Ash from the Butley Ash Chef & Brewer, and we met representatives from People 1st and various MPs to highlight the opportunities presented by apprenticeships in the industry.
What do you love most about your job? I enjoy pleasing the public and providing them with value for money balanced with great service. I love meeting new people every day and mentoring staff. It's good to feel part of someone's life and know I can make a difference.
What ambitions do you have? I'm now enrolled on our new Team Leader Apprenticeship programme, a next step for me to progress and carve out a career in the business. In the future I would like to run my own pub or become area manager. I would like to stay in the industry and cascade my knowledge as a trainer.
What do you think someone should know before they join this industry? The hours are long but they are part of the job. Personally, I now feel weird if I do a half day. My weekend is Monday and Tuesday, but I'm used to it.
Presumably the camaraderie is good? The atmosphere is great. We have a laugh at work but we are professional. It's friendly but with a structure.
Do you think it's best to have qualifications in this industry? I have A levels but some people haven't got them. This industry is open to everyone, because your employer gives you all the help you need.
Punch Taverns - the nitty gritty â- There are more than 6,700 pubs across the leased and managed estate.
â- Besides Fayre & Square, brands range from the family friendly Whacky Warehouse and Chef & Brewer to the more traditional Taylor Walker.
â- Listed in the Sunday Times‘ 25 Best Big Companies to Work for in the UK 2011.
The hotel bar
Who? Frederick Laseen, 26
Where? The Balmoral Bar, Balmoral hotel, Edinburgh
Which Company? Rocco Forte Hotels
So, you've had a transatlantic career? Well, I'm Swedish, but grew up in the USA. I studied hospitality and restaurant management at hotel school in San Francisco, California, and then did an internship at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, gaining overall hospitality experience.
What made you choose hospitality? Hospitality always made sense to me because my parents were always throwing dinner parties and I was always playing the host with friends.
Tell us about your first job After my internship at the Four Seasons, I took a full-time job with them as a bus boy in the restaurant, clearing up and so on.
So you think it's valuable to work up from the bottom? Yes, it's good to work your way up. Getting experience by working on the front line is irreplaceable. From bus boy I moved up to waiter and for the next two-and-a-half years I worked my way up to assistant manager. I always wanted to go into management, but I needed to learn the right skills. I worked as assistant manager in the health club and the pool restaurant and also spent a year working in the lounge bar. It made me appreciate hard work.
How did you get this job? I came to Edinburgh in 2007 when the Balmoral hotel was opening. I actually applied for a different job but this one came up.
What does your job entail? I'm in charge of the hotel bar - profit and loss, staff, wage costs, designing the menus, devising concepts for drinks service, cocktails and so on.
How does it compare with LA? The clientele are very different. It's a nice change. We get the typical high-end guests who are demanding, which is a rewarding challenge, and the tourists, who just want to chat. I like the guest interaction, speaking to them on a daily basis - it's my favourite part.
Does the company support training and development? Yes, this company is proactive about moving people around. I train our staff to do their best and I'm learning from my managers, too. The company doesn't just want its staff to perform best while they are here, they also want them to leave here as a better person and to improve the industry at large.
Will you pursue your career in hospitality? This is very much my career. I'd like to move into F&B - high-end dining or banqueting in a supervisory role.
The Balmoral - the nitty gritty â- Part of Rocco Forte Hotels, which operates 13 chic international hotels and resorts, with three openings due in three years.
â- Besides the Balmoral bar, there is the Bollinger bar at Palm Court and the drawing room.
â- All new staff are given comprehensive training in the company's five-star standards.
train for the bar
Here are just a few companies that can help you go far:
McMullen & Sons
Mitchells and Butlers
Greene King Pubs
BII (British Institute of Innkeepers)
five good reasons to get behind a bar
â- Many pub companies offer excellent training so you can plot your career
â- If you're willing to learn fast and have a dazzling personality, employers will welcome you whatever your qualifications
â- Those of you with talent could become a manager before you hit 30
â- The smoking ban means pubs and bars are now much healthier places to work
â- It's a fun environment for anyone who enjoys meeting people