Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Interview: James Spencer, Publican

Thirty-one year old James Spencer spends his days in a pub. As jobs go, this sounds like a pretty good offing. Previously at the helm of a well reputed gastropub, he now runs The Hopbine, a "proper boozer" in the middle of the countryside. It's the kind of place where you feel like a local on your first visit and speak to almost everyone you meet - a rare treat indeed. So how hard a job can it be? What does it take to manage a pub? I caught up with James to find out...


Running a pub sounds like an idyllic 'good life' occupation - how much does it live up to this image?  

I love spending time with people, experiencing different challenges and serving great beer so for me it is a ‘good life’ occupation, but that’s not to say it doesn’t come without it’s negatives. The hours are long and the pub industry is not the same as it was 20 years ago. The drinking habits of the UK have changed and this presents a challenge when looking to get new customers through the door. That said, I love my little pub and feel proud to be in one of the oldest professions in our society. 

Was this something you were always interested in? If not, how did you come to run The Hopbine? 

I fell into hospitality when supplementing my income at university and have never really left it. I think it's because I enjoy the social interaction attached to it. Various opportunities over the years led me to the position I found myself in a couple of years ago when The Hopbine became available.

"Hands-on experience working in the environment is essential before approaching taking on a pub but a good understanding of business operation is also vital."

What kind of experience did you have before you took on your first pub? What kind of experience does one need before starting something like this? 

I’d worked in bars and restaurants in the UK and french ski resorts as well as managing catered chalets and hotels in France too. Hands-on experience working in the environment is essential before approaching taking on a pub but a good understanding of business operation is also vital.

Describe a typical day - if indeed there is such a thing...

I tend to arrive at the pub between 9.30 - 10.00am. I check my emails, meet with staff, place orders, follow up messages etc. Some days I’ll work the lunch shift on either the bar or in the kitchen, somedays I’ll sit in the office all afternoon dealing with accounts (the less glamorous part of the job!). At a given point in the afternoon I pop out to take the dog for a walk. In the evening I’ll either work behind the bar or in the kitchen, or if I just have admin to do in the office I will usually clock off around 7.30pm

Best and worst parts of your job?

Best: looking after great beers and watching people enjoy them. Worst: Working weekends!

What advice would you give to someone looking to run their own pub (/bar/cafe/restaurant)? 

Always keep your fixed overheads as low as possible and your GP as high as possible!

What kind of financial circumstances/savings does one require to get started? 

This depends on the size of the pub and the type of operation but it can be done for between £30-50k

How rewarding would you say your job is? 

Very, especially when you see people coming back time and time again.


Thanks for your time, James! The Hopbine is in Petteridge Lane, Matfield, (TN12 7NE) and serves a variety of real ales and pizzas cooked in its wood-fired oven. For more info visit

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