Thursday 29 May 2014

The Landlord

No, this isn't a post about the best known product of Timothy Taylor, fine product when well-kept it no doubt is. No, in my increasingly reckless journey down the road of iconoclasm, I'm going the write about the person who runs The Pub.

Imagine. You go to the pub, probably for a swift pint before your evening meal. There to greet you is a jolly, ruddy-cheeked chap with sideburns polishing a glass. He knows your name, and is pouring your drink before you even order it. And again, before you even finish that one. As the night closes in, he will listen to the tales of your day with a sympathetic ear, all the while making sure your glass is fuller than your life's events makes it seem. Then, at the end of the night, when you're somewhat the worse for wear, he will gently shepherd you out and back off home, never presuming or offending, but making clear he has your best interests at heart. He closes the doors, to begin the nightly task of making sure his pub is as spick-and-span as when the doors opened that day. Then he turns in, happily reassured by the knowledge that the cycle will begin anew at noon the following day.

Or so the popular image goes. Sadly, the actual experience of tenant landlords in current times sadly exposes this as a myth. The BBC has reported a study that Publicans have one of the lowest levels of job satisfaction, and the Morning Advertiser says many are struggling.  As you've probably read elsewhere, the pincer of falling on-trade drinks sales and pub company/brewery pressures are likely to be behind this. It's a wonder anyone wants to take on a pub at all.

So why be a tenant landlord of a pub? You own the actual business, but you're unlikely to own the building itself or the infrastructure that supports it. When you fail to meet targets, or displease your masters, you're likely to be evicted. Thus losing both your job and home in one go. And even if you do manage to be a success, your rent will likely be raised as a reward.  The salaried manager has none of this, he or she just collects the money and goes home. While they can be pressured and fired, they won't become homeless and a guaranteed a certain amount of cash each month.

Is it now prudent to "call time" (pub article cliché #1, sorry) on the concept of the tenant landlord?  To me, it seems a model of employment left over from the 19th Century, never mind the 20th. I presume it worked when landlords were owner-proprietors, but when they live in a company building to sell that company's products, it seems to be a relationship based on exploitation and coercion. It almost goes without saying that the biggest (and possibly only) pub success of the last 20 years, Wetherspoons, is exclusively salary-managed. I assume that most of the hipster crafty places are run on similar lines, too.

As far as I can see, there are precious few reasons to keep the tenant model going. The only thing it does is attract people with the promise of liberty, but only providing indentured servitude.

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