We’ve all thought of running our own business in some manner, but have you ever thought about running a pub? Maybe it’s a thought in your mind whilst down at your local which whispering to you about how you’d improve your boozer or what you’d do differently. If so then you may have viewed the various options available to you such as franchising, buying out a pub and other avenues all of which have one thing in common. They are expensive.
However, there is another way into the public house industry. Micropubs. Prior to Covid-19 these pint-sized venues had become popular due to their feeling of closeness and community. The idea of owning and running a small pub out of a converted front reception room might sound enticing but know this, like with any business venture, it’ll take plenty of hard work. With that being said if you are willing to invest your time and money in the idea, along with learning some new skills too there is no reason why you shouldn’t stand a chance of opening a successful micropub.
We at Micropub Magazine have teamed up with catering equipment suppliers Alliance Online to produce the following guide which aims to highlight what is needed when setting up such a micropub and act as a guide to what you will need to do. This includes:
Typically, a micropub is a small, licensed establishment which normally consists of one small room with a bar. The main focus is to serve a menu of quality and unique, local beers and ales which are not usually found in larger pub chains. Snacks are also served but beyond that food is generally not offered due to the intimacy of the venue and the lack of space for larger catering appliances.
Regarding the ambience, micropubs tend to lean towards the more traditional pub atmosphere compared to modern pubs. They emphasise the social aspect of drinking with an onus on providing a quiet space for conversation whilst enjoying your beverage free from electronic distractions, loud music or fruit machines. Some have even gone as far as to impose mobile phone bans with those being caught using their devices fined £1.00. One micropub landlord in Kent raised over £20,000 for charity thanks to his £1.00 fines (The Drinks Business).
Micropubs are also always independently owned and run, meaning larger pub chains or brewery companies are not involved. This is the reason why micropubs opt for local, unique and independent breweries for their drinks offering as they are not compelled by any larger company to serve specific beverages.
In recent years these small independent publican outposts have become lifelines for small villages and towns that have lost their larger pubs due to increasing costs and decreasing usage from punters. A key reason for their success is lower running costs and their ability to captivate a smaller but more loyal audience. This is reflected in their increasing numbers with over 750 currently trading in the UK.
Before we go any further with this guide, we feel it is important for us to state if you are considering opening a micropub we suggest you pause and think about whether you are sure you are up to the task. The process can be long and albeit less than a traditional pub, the initial expenditure can still be a large amount of money. If you want to succeed you need to be prepared to give the venture 100% focus, below are a few important factors before you get the ball rolling.
Are you a lover of beer and ales?
There is a saying that you are at work too long not to enjoy it, now obviously most jobs have unfavourable aspects but the core premise behind micropubs is the independence associated. With this comes the ability to offer locally brewed drinks or unique flavoured options. As such you’ll need to have both knowledge and enthusiasm regarding your menu. It’s likely most of your punters won’t have experienced your drinks brands so will have questions so knowing what they may want depending on their usual tastes will be essential.
Do you enjoy socialising?
In the beginning of running your pub you will likely not have the funds to hire bar staff so it will be you who works the bar. As a result, you will be subject to a lot of conversation so being able to socialise and enjoy chatting to people is required. A key part of this is not to be overbearingly upbeat and happy, your punters are there to relax and chat so match your energy with theirs.
As all business owners can appreciate, when starting any venture, you need to be open to allowing it to take up any and all free time you have to get it up and running. As we have just mentioned it is likely that at the start you will be manning the bar meaning your evenings and weekends will be spent chatting to customers, pulling pints and generally serving your customers. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing however, if you enjoy it, you may find it a great way to spend your time, just know that the hours will be unsociable compared with standard work schedules.
Then there is the maintenance, stocking and general business admin to consider too. It may be best to get into a routine of closing for at least one day a week to ensure you stay on top of accounting records. As for stock levels, after a few weeks you’ll begin to get a sense for gauging how often you will need to order new stock in.
Prior to opening your pub, it may be a good idea to gain some experience working behind a bar to understand the protocols and workings of other venues. It will also give you the opportunity to learn how to serve drinks, organise and maintain a tidy bar, dealing with customers and give you ideas for presentation ideas.If you are finding it difficult to get placed in an actual working pub or bar then another way to get experience is by volunteering at beer, drink or food festivals. Most towns, villages and cities have their own local food and drink festivals, simply contact the organisers and request a list of who is participating. From there you can call or email the various exhibitors relevant to the pub industry and ask to get involved. This will give you great experience in areas such as pulling pints, transporting and tapping casks and kegs and give you a feel to run a small bar for a day.
A slightly more business centred approach to training would be to enrol on a pub management course. The benefit of such courses is they’ll teach you aspects such as health and safety, alcohol serving and storing legislation, bookkeeping and more. These are a great idea if you have hospitality experience but lack confidence in the business side of running a micropub.
Top tip: A micropub is always independently owned, meaning it isn’t owned by a brewery or larger company. Unlike a leasehold public house — where the pub landlord can only serve the drinks and beers supplied by the brewery that owns the building — an independent free house can serve whatever beers and ales the owner likes.
As mentioned, the start-up costs for a micropub are indeed lower than that of a traditional boozer, but you will still need a sizable investment to get yourself up and running. So, we feel you should take some time into researching the realistic start-up costs that you will need to make your dream a reality. Below we have highlighted some key costs you’ll need to invest in when starting out.
This will make up your largest expense and also represents your most important decision
in relation to your business. Your budget will determine whether you buy or let the desired premises, most micropub owners do opt for renting but see what your budget allows for. The best way to get a sense of property / rent costs is to simply check sites such as Zoopla and Rightmove for local listing.It is important to note that the buildings you will be viewing don’t need to be pubs at present, just a small and affordable commercial space which you feel could be renovated into a cosy and welcoming micropub. Just remember you will need to seek change of use permission from your local council should the building not currently be a pub. If you call your local council, they will be able to give you an overview to this process over the phone.
Also make sure you budget for renovation work. You may need to add toilets for patrons as per UK law and legislation, or you may want to create a beer cellar should the building have a space underneath the premises. Equally, consider internal and external costs such as redecorating and signage costs. For external signage get quotes from a local company and internally try and do as much yourself where you can to save a few pounds.
Due to your pub being run from a non-domestic property, irrespective of whether it is rented or owned, you will be subject to paying business rates. This is calculated in a similar manner to council tax or water rates as it is charged based on a “rateable value” which is defined by the market value of your property. To learn more about business rates and get a better understanding of how they are formulated click here to go to the government portal.
Cost of Equipment
All pubs irrespective of size need a few essential pieces of equipment. The most obvious are appliances like beer taps, lines, a bottle cooler and of course fitting an actual bar with glassware which can add up to a few thousand on their own. Remember you will also need to consider chairs, tables, additional seating like bar stools as well as general décor. The best port of call is to opt for second-hand furniture or upcycle old / worn items to help keep costs down whilst also promoting a rustic aesthetic. Further in the guide we shall itemise the appliances you’ll need in more depth.
As a seller of alcohol, you will need to be fully licensed. The fees for licensing are usually paid for during the application process. Below there is a fuller list of all licenses to consider.
The final initial consideration for budget allocation is insurance costs. You will need to sort out various different insurances, the following are certainly required:
• Building & Contents
• Public Liability
• Employer Liability (Only needed if you are hiring staff)
Naturally the exact costs of each policy are dependent upon a number of factors such as the square footage of your pub, opening times, services / products offered. A beer exclusive menu (no wines or spirits) can also impact on price. Our advice would be to shop around like you would do with your car or house insurance to get the best price you can.
Top tip: Although the costs tend to be lower than for a larger traditional pub, setting up a micropub will still mean a sizable investment. So, you should have a realistic idea of the costs involved, along with a plan for financing your micropub.
Like any venture, you will need to write a business plan for your micropub. The purpose of this is to provide a detailed step by step process for you to follow particularly during the first year of trading. It will also be beneficial to have one when approaching lenders or investors should a business loan be required to secure additional funding.
When writing your plan detail the first year meticulously but also plan clear goals and objectives for the first three years. Whilst doing this you should acknowledge potential issues which may arise and plan solutions you will use to try and counter them. The key to writing a business plan is not only planning what you will do to generate revenue and what you’ll spend this revenue on, but also account for pitfalls and problems that may arise, so you are aware of them from the beginning. Having an awareness for such issues will also help you recognise earlier if they become a reality and give you a way you can try to mitigate their impact on your micropub.
Remember to keep going back to your business plan and amending it as your goals change / are achieved to keep moving the pub forward in the manner you want it to.
Registering Your Business
Once your plan has been written and you have found a venue which meets your needs it is time to register your micropub as a business. The way this is done is by registering your micropub as a company with the government. Most owners choose to register their micropub as one of the following three options as it makes the tax payment process easier:
1. Sole Trader
2. Limited Company
Each has different benefits and legal statuses depending upon your annual turnover, self-administration and account taking. To gain a better understanding of the nature of each business type we would recommend you read the following guide to setting up a business on the government’s website.
Top tip: Your business plan should include a clear outline of your objectives and goals for the first three years of operation, along with a plan of how you’re going to achieve them. It will help to include some troubleshooting solutions that you’ll fall back on if things don’t go quite to plan.
Any and all businesses that sell or serve alcohol must hold up to date versions of the correct corresponding licenses. To run a micropub in England and Wales you will need to do the following:
Just remember that the above advice is in relation to England and Wales, Scotland and
Northern Ireland have their own laws (the Licensing Act 2005 and the Licensing Order 1996,
respectively). So should your micropub fall into one of these two countries ensure you read
and learn about the relevant government website.
As mentioned above, the venue is the most important aspect of your business. It needs to be right and even though at this point you may have found a place you think will be perfect, take a moment to reflect on what you will need your venue to have.
A favourite of most micropub owners is to convert small high street shops. The main reason being they are perfectly suited for the conversion:The first key consideration is location. You need to be located where the demand for a pub is high so consider the demographics of the local people and the competition there is nearby. Also consider how well suited to the surrounding businesses your micropub will be, are you likely to encounter any issues or objections regarding running a pub from your neighbours?
That being said your micropub does not need to be a shop. The joy of opening a micropub is you can choose almost small building for your venture. Buildings such as former post offices and former railway arches have been successfully converted into thriving micropubs. As such, try looking around your local area and identify if there are any areas which could benefit from their own petit public house.
The other key consideration you need to be conscious of is space for toilets and a place for racking and cooling casks, kegs and additional bottles of beer. Most micropubs get round this by making use of either a cellar or a secondary room which was initially a stock room. Also remember that under UK law, all land and buildings are categorised into various “use classes”. Pubs and establishments where alcoholic drinking takes place are in the A4 class so any retail space you are buying / renting will require a change of use planning application should the building not have this class already assigned to it.
Top tip: Location is key. Your micropub should be located where there’s demand, so consider the demographics of the local people and scope out the competition in the local area (if any). You’ll
also want to think about how compatible your pub will be with the surrounding businesses and properties, as the neighbours may object if they think your pub is going to disturb them.
So, you now have the plan, licenses and the venue but before you can start getting your punters in, you now need to stock up on essential pub equipment. Below we shall run through an extensive list of equipment to consider and necessities which you’ll need when first starting out.
Firstly, the bar
The bar is where you as the landlord will spend most of your time whilst working in the pub, and more than likely where you’ll spend most of your equipment budget. To serve your drinks you’ll need the following:
1. Beer Pumps and Taps – Your craft ales will need a beer pump whilst draught beer will need taps. You may need a professional company to come and fit these for you and we would recommend starting with two or three taps to begin with, more can be added as the pub develops. Should you want a larger variety of drinks you can store additional canned and bottled craft beer brands behind the bar too.
2. Drip Mats – Positioned underneath the taps and pumps, the mats catch run off whilst drinks are being poured. They are also useful for having on the bar as they also give the glasses traction and help mitigate accidental glass breakages.
3. Bottle Openers – As daft and obvious as it sounds, if you are serving bottled drinks, you’ll need a way to open them. A wall mounted option bar side is always a good option as you’ll never lose it!
4. Dispensers and Measures – For using when portioning spirits and wine.
5. Ice Bin and Scoop – Not necessarily for craft beers or ales but if you serve soft drinks and spirits ice may be required.
6. Pegs, Spiles and Mallet – You will need these for both tapping and stopping your casks.
7. Glassware Storage – Overhead racks are a great way of conveniently storing stemware in a manner which both practical and visually pleasing. Equally a plethora of shelves would also be prudent to ensure you always have glasses to hand (note any shelves holding glassware should have a rubber mat or glass mat on it to keep glasses in place).
8. Bar Top Organiser – This can be a caddy or even polycarbonate / imitation glassware to be in keeping with the trend. As long as you have somewhere to store napkins, drinks mats and other such products.
9. Cleaning Supplies – The final essential would be a good concise range of cleaning products which are ready at hand to deal with spillages, breakages and disinfecting surfaces. An item we would always suggest should be a part of your cleaning kit is kitchen roll, you’d be surprised how useful it is!
Top tip: Owing to the size of the bar, many micropubs start off with just two or three taps, then add more as the business develops. You can always supplement your selection with canned and bottled craft beer if you want to offer a wider selection.
How are you going to take payment?
Naturally, you are going to need a way in which you can take your hard-earned cash. At the end of the day that’s one of the main reasons you want to own your own business. In order to do so you’ll need to invest in a till. Whether you opt for a modern and understated option or want a statement vintage national till make sure you familiarise yourself with how it works and operates.
Secondly, and most likely the most common form of payment you’ll take from customers is card payment so having a card reader is essential. The reader should ideally be compatible with both pinless payment and mobile paying. Most modern readers offer a very small, fixed fee per purchase, but it is still good practice to be aware of the cost and factor this into your drink’s prices.
Hot beverages and soft drinks
The idea of owning a pub is to serve alcohol to customers, this is the main premise for the business. But you may find offering soft drinks and hot beverages increases your customer base to include non-drinkers who still wish to enjoy the ambience you have created in their local area. Hot beverages, especially coffees, are particularly great for small local towns as this offers your punters a quick pick me up before they go home. It also shows you are accommodating to the whole family including options for those who may not be legally allowed to drink yet due to age, or those who prefer not to.
A simple starting point is a kettle in a space / back of bar room, but should you find this becomes a popular option and lucrative cash channel then you may want to invest in a water boiler or possibly a coffee machine. We are not suggesting you go out and lease a Costa machine but having a smart entry level barista style coffee machine will look smart next to your other barware. It also means you may be able to open during the day on weekends and offer coffees and other hot drinks to passers-by looking for something warm.
So, this is an obvious one, you are going to need a lot of pub glassware. The reason we say pub glassware is because it is best practice to purchase glassware from a pub wholesaler as their ranges will be toughened and industry standard meaning you should get better ware out of them, and they may stand a chance of surviving an accidental drop. Equally, most commercial glassware is dishwasher safe meaning you can wash en masse opposed to requiring a potwasher.With that being said it is also wise to invest in craft beer glasses as well as your standard pint options such as tulip, conical, nonic and tankards. A craft beer glass allows you to serve your more unique ales in a glass that is designed to enhance the drinking experience for your customer. It is good practice to ask your beer and ale suppliers what type of glass they would recommend for their drinks as this can make a huge difference to the aromas and flavour.
Dishwashing and bar cleaning
As previously mentioned, unless you are hiring a potwasher, or plan on spending hours at the sink with nothing but marigolds and suds a dishwasher is advisable. If you do not have any crockery or cutlery to wash or what you do have is minimal, you may be able to get away with just a glasswasher which typically have quicker cleaning cycles. Remember when cleaning your kegs and beer lines you will need a beer line cleaner to sanitise them and prevent yeast, limescale, beerstone and mould from building up in your lines. Ideally you should clean your lines at a minimum every 7 days, but every 4 days
is preferable.When you do use beer line cleaner ensure you do so correctly:
Food and snacks
Now, it is unlikely your micropub will serve food as this isn’t what old school pubs do. It’s all about the drink in your hand and the conversation you’re having. The focus isn’t food, but snacks have always been a staple in some form. All landlords know the game, offer your pundits dry and salty nibbles as this dries out their mouths and ends with them craving some liquid relief.
You can’t go wrong with offering crisps, nuts and pork scratchings. They are familiar choices and favourites within the industry nationwide. You can offer local additions should you have anything that fits the bill and doesn’t require much cooking / preparation from you. Offering some sweet options is known within the micropub industry but unless you see a potential money-making opportunity, we would recommend sticking to the tried and tested. Although, if you are in a coastal area, ice cream in the summer months is not a bad idea.
Where will your customers sit?
The final consideration for the functional aspects of the inside of your micropub is where are you going to put your punters? You will need to maximise the limited space you have with seating that helps you get as many people in comfortably as you can. Obviously, bar stools are always a good place to start, not only at the bar but also around the edge of the room if you install wall tables for your customers to sit at.
Chairs are always a good option as they provide a degree of comfort for drinkers. A large sofa can sometimes be a great way of forcing interaction and conversation between separate customer groups who may frequent your establishment at the same time.
Always make sure there are plenty of conveniently placed side tables, shelves and other places where drinks can be placed so your customers don’t have to eternally hold their drink whilst at your venue.
Now we focus on the main draw of your micropub, the alcohol you serve. Or more importantly, the uniqueness of your drinks and their flavours. As mentioned at the start of this guide, beer is the most common drink served so your pub will need to have good quality beers and ales available for your punters. You want it to become your calling card, serving brilliant beverages for your customers. But how do you go about sourcing them?
Your first step is to email or call local breweries in your area and arrange a sampling of their offering. Don’t just rely on your taste buds, if you have beer drinkers in your family or friendship group then get samples for them, even if you have to pay for extra and get their opinions.
Once you have decided on a drink you want to offer contact the relevant supplier and negotiate a price and discuss what discounts they can offer for larger orders. This gives you an idea to what prices you could buy in at should you require larger volume orders once your pub is up and running.
The best idea is to opt for a few distinct drinkable styles like session IPAs, pale ales and a few unusual choices or season specials. After a few months you will be able to tell what’s popular and what isn’t and swap out those which aren’t setting your customer palates alight for new flavours for them to try.
So, if you like the idea of spending days behind the bar, serving your locals and enjoying the atmosphere your pub creates, then a micropub can be the perfect place to start. It will require a lot of hard work and many initially unpaid hours to get your micropub up and running. You will also need to consider setting some money aside for marketing to get the word out about your new pub.