Opening a pub in an economic downturn might seem like a completely crazy idea, but one pub chain is actively seeking new recruits. The national brewer and pub retailer Greene King is offering 50 places on its new graduate training programme this year in an effort to find a fresh generation of pub managers.
The chain – whose brands include Loch Fyne, Hungry Horse, Hardy's House and Old English Inns – is looking for candidates who can run their own venues within the third year of their training. And it's not alone. The 2010 State of the Nation report (which includes the annual labour market review of the leisure and hospitality industry) reports that 45 per cent of leisure sector employers recruited new staff last year, and some employers even reported difficulty in finding suitable applicants for managerial positions.
But what makes a good publican? Nowadays, you're likely to find the modern publican is a savvy marketer, a keen social networker and a business whizz-kid.
Ron and Danielle Oliver are house managers of The Crown Inn in Lymm, Cheshire. They met on a cruise ship (Danielle as a singer and Ron as a cruise director) and both worked as art auctioneers before deciding to run a pub. "We realised the same skills could be applied to running our own pub: managing entertainment departments, sales and customer service skills," says Danielle. The pair completed Greene King's 14-week management training course and began running the Crown at the end of 2008.
One of the main things you need, says Danielle, is to be able to work as a team. "Managing a team of 15 to 20 staff, in addition to job-sharing with your partner, means you have to get on well with everyone." You also need to have excellent customer service skills, which the pair learned "dealing with American customers on the cruise ships".
To be a partnership in the pub trade (as anyone who has seen EastEnders knows), you need to be honest about differences and strengths. So, says Danielle, "Ron manages the logistical aspects of the pub, like cellar management and ordering, while I focus on front-of-house and customer relations."
But running a pub for a large chain doesn't mean you have to relinquish creativity, either. In fact, says Danielle, she is using her imagination as much now as a publican as she used to when she worked as an entertainer on the cruise ships. "It's challenging coming up with innovative ways to attract customers," she says, "such as having piano performances and gigs."
There are social benefits, just as there are in Albert Square's social hub, the good old Queen Vic. "Managing a pub means being a vital part of the community," says Danielle. "We really see ourselves as hosts of a party."
Steve Bryan, who is house manager at the White Hart Hotel in Braintree, Essex, went down the publican route in an offbeat way. When he was made redundant from his job as a sales and marketing director in 2008, his wife persuaded him to apply for the BBC2 show The Restaurant, in which amateurs pit their wits against professional chefs.
Getting to the final four sparked Bryan's desire to work in hospitality, and when he'd completed the show he applied to Greene King to become a house manager, despite not having had any previous hospitality training.
Anyone can become a publican in theory, but you do need to get a National Certificate For Personal Licence Holders, obtained through the British Institute of Innkeepers. Most large pub chains have management training.
Bryan enrolled on a 14-week course with Greene King and was offered a management position at the White Hart. He believes his work in marketing and finance comes into play. "The variety is amazing," he says. "One day, I can be planning local marketing to promote the pub, and the next helping out the staff in the bar.
"There's the challenge of learning so many aspects of the business [his pub is a hotel too, so there are weddings, parties and conferences to host], but seeing the end result of good food and service is very rewarding."
For more information on working for Greene King, visit www.greeneking pubs.co.uk. To explore other innkeeping careers, visit the British Institute of Innkeeping website at www.bii.org