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In this article, Conor Kenny, Head of Hospitality Consultants, Conor Kenny & Associates, looks at 10 common mistakes that some Publicans often make.

Unlike many businesses caught out by this perfect storm, Publicans have had the advantage of typhoons, tornados and turmoil for the last 5 or 6 years. Legislation has not been kind to them, and obstacle after obstacle has littered their journey.
Surprising then that some of the survivors are still making elementary mistakes that mean “I won’t be back”
It’s a tough and dangerous battlefield out there. A little confusing then that many don’t develop a simple, effective and immediate war plan. It’s one thing to get shot in a war but to shoot yourself in the foot? That is unforgivable.
In his book ‘Can You Manage’ Ivor Kenny says …”a business, unlike a human being, does not die naturally, it dies from neglect” The lessons you are about to read are all about just that - neglect.

An Invitation (or is it?)

Some time ago I was invited to a pub by the sea. It’s a busy pub on a main road and their food was pretty good too. However, business was poor and they were perplexed. As I drove up towards the Pub I was amazed at several obvious points. The cheap signs advertising food had blown inwards so they couldn’t be seen. The flowers were dead – long dead. The car park was full of litter dancing merrily in the wind. The shade of yellow on the shop front was industrial looking and the menu in the window was torn.
It was easy to see the impact on any potential customer – if they got that far!

Hello & Welcome!

Imagine heading off to a dinner party hosted by your good and favoured friends? Imagine the excitement looking forward to an evening of welcomes, warmth and fun. Imagine the expectation.
The greeting is key. If it’s a Bank, a Church, a business or a Pub, it sets the mood, tone and expectation. Get it right and you are half way there. Get it wrong and you can load that toe shooting gun.
We received an enquiry, a request to help make business better. I went to meet her at her Pub. I arrived on time and almost passed out from the disinfectant. “Clean at least” I thought to myself. The lights were down and the hairy mop looked half human. From the shadows she appeared, hands on hips “Yes” she said through an aggressive cold eyed stare “Can I help you?” I thought about it and gently replied “No thanks” turned and left.
On my way back to the office I wondered why she thought business was not booming.

Did You See Me?

I am a great admirer of Charlie Chawke and his Pubs. Enter The Goat, The Dropping Well, or others, and watch how long it takes before someone sees you, welcomes you, and rushes in to help you. They are like expert anglers; they never miss the chance to seize their catch. Funny thing is customers love it.
Ignore me, make me wait, or fail to see me and guess what? I won’t be back. You missed your chance and I have choices.

Really Special

We make decisions quickly. Our decisions (and radars) are finely tuned. The Celtic Tiger did that, it educated our standards. Thing is, in a recession, our standards will not drop; they will be more demanding in the pursuit of value and quality. How we send messages has therefore become incredibly important.
I was in rural Kerry, I was hungry, and a beautiful shop front caught my eye. I pulled in. I aimed straight for the ‘specials’ board. The overwhelming sense of disappointment manifested quickly. Today’s specials were “Veg Soup and Roast of The Day”.
“Nothing special” I thought, “I’m off”. Simple language that promises difference, value, quality and consistency are all that were needed. I would certainly have explored further.


He is a good guy and a very good Publican. In the Midlands I was looking forward to my days work. The Pub had been transformed and business was good. My initial gold star assessment quickly fell apart. The good looking young server had nails that King Kong would have been proud of. The toilets, though sparkly new were not sparkly clean. But most revealing was the local ladies who, on the way out said in not so hushed tones “You could deep freeze your husband’s dinner in those loos”
It’s the simple things, and attention to detail, that really count.

Let Me Entertain You

Ask most Publicans what entertainment means and they will usually say “A Band” A Munster Pub that sought our help was in deep trouble. His entertainment offering was “Music 7 Nights a Week” It did not take expert eyes to see that he would die a slow, awkward and nasty death. He did, he died.
‘Entertainment’ can have many forms and music certainly does not make you stand out from the crowd. Entertainment can be in food, in theatre, in competition, in fun, for charity and for something new. Dig deep into your own imagination, and your staff, and it’s easy to see how many ways you can use the word entertainment without mentioning music.
As A. Whitney Brown, The Big Picture said; “there are a billion people in China. It’s not easy to be an individual in a crowd of more than a billion people. Think of it, more than a billion people. That means even if you're a one-in-a-million type of guy, there are still a thousand guys exactly like you”

People Power

A mood or atmosphere is set by one thing only – people. Imagine that dinner party again. Now imagine your good humoured enthusiastic arrival. The door opens, you smile widely, the hosts don’t, they scowl. Interesting evening ahead (that’s if you stay!)
Get your people to believe they are on stage and that their role creates the mood. Quickly, you will notice the difference.
In Kilkenny I remember a husband and wife team. They worked closely but clearly love had long since lost its sparkle. Every time he or she had to shimmy past the other it was accompanied by a subtle little dig or kick. They were sure nobody saw them, we did.
If you don’t train, involve and invest in your people, don’t expect them to perform.

More Sir?

I’m not going to buy a dessert because I’m hugely drawn to the slightly crumpled, off white, A4 sheet advertising “Cheese Cake” I’m not going to order a coffee because I feel like it. I’m not coming to see that interesting new act on Saturday because there was a poster on the door and I’m not going to recommend you if I don’t see you standing out from the crowd.
How many times have you watched people patiently waiting for the server to come over so they could ‘buy’ something else? How long did you wait to have the table cleared only to have given up on the idea of the apple tart they were trying to get you to buy?
The point is people love you to upsell to them. They tend to describe it differently; they call it “a bargain”
It’s hard enough to get customers in but it’s more annoying (well, it should be) to see them walk out hungry.

Glorious Food.

The business of Pubs has been in a constant state of flux for the last number of years. Publicans are resilient and good at change. They have to be, the alternative is not very appealing. The days of simply serving alcohol are gone, gone forever, dead. If you hang on to “the good old days” eventually your fingers will tire and you will drop off this mortal planet. Pubs simply have to offer me several reasons to come in your door. One sure way is through food.
Witness the explosion in cooking TV programmes, that tells you how much of a food nation we have become. Our own business had to adapt and we did. We were lucky; we captured a 2 Michelin Star Chef who wants to teach Pubs how to cook really great Pub food. He’s French and his name is Fred!
It’s not about ‘a carvery’ or whatever; it’s about doing really good food. Modesty prevents me from mentioning Pubs we work with that have succeeded in this quest. Equally, experience tells me which Pubs never to go back to.
When I was 10 my Dad stopped off at a famous Pub on the way to a big Wicklow beach. We were all sick for 3 days.30 something years later and the Pub no longer exists. As I pass the site of its former existence, the memory does.

Goodbye and Thank You

My Mother always taught me the importance of simple good manners. Today, that is missing in younger generations, and it shows. Too many Pubs have got caught up in the pursuit of profit instead of serving their customers. Some are grumpy, some nasty and others purely exploitative. The concept of the extra mile is missing and greed has overtaken humility.
Excess deflects from what is right, what is the road less easy. Today, more than ever before, Publicans need to focus on the customer, what is right, and what is good for customers, not themselves. If they do that, the rest will take care of itself.

Finally, that wonderful dinner party is over, the lights are going down, it’s time to say goodbye. You see, every evening finishes on a note or tone, just like the beginning. How often have I had fun, engaged with your staff and soaked up the fun, laughter and merriment and how often have you made time to say goodbye? Most don’t bother. Simple, but as my Mother told me, memorable!

To quote Rick Warren; “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less” Not a bad idea in a perfect storm.

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