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Pub staff

In this article Victoria Wells discusses pub staff.
Photo of an active bar environment with drinks being served and customers at the bar waiting..
© Ben Black on UnSplash

We have already said how important customers are to pubs, and without them pubs would not survive.

We’re highlighted the general theme of management but we cannot overlook another important element – the staff who work in pubs. These include the bar and waiting staff, the chef, the cleaner and of course the publican him- or herself.

Not only do they make sure that the practicalities of the pub work but they add to the atmosphere and the social interaction. As Thomas Rowell notes in his 2015 thesis, pub staff link importantly to the social environment of the pub, are an important tangible element, and play an important part in the overall pub experience (mainly as they are often the first social point of contact into a pub). Schmidt and Sapsford (1995) highlight the

“dynamic interplay between the physical environment and the behaviour of staff” (page 34).
Fawn Harrad in her 2016 thesis also notes the importance of ‘knowing’ between the staff and customers, with staff knowing the regular customers and knowing when they were absent.
Two particular staff are talked about more than others: the publican and the barmaid.
The publican is probably the most well-characterised and extensively written about part of the pub team. The stereotypical image of a pub landlord is as brash, conservative, opinionated and with often outdated attitudes. Perhaps the most famous comedy character based on the pub landlord was created by Al Murray (if you’re unfamiliar with this character you can find clips online but do note his portrayal contains swearing and offensive language).
The multifaceted role that publicans have is emphasised across many pieces of work and writing. Kate Fox (1993) notes that the publican fulfils many roles such as the psychologist, the actor, the community leader and the policeman. Cooper (1971) states that:
“a publican must be a democrat, an autocrat, an acrobat, a doormat. He must be able to entertain prime ministers, pickpockets, pirates, philanthropists and police – and be on both sides of the political fence – a footballer, golfer, bowler, tennis player, darts champion, and pigeon fancier. He has to settle arguments and fights, and he must be a qualified boxer, wrestler, weight lifter, sprinter and peacemaker… to sum up: he must be outside, inside, offside, glorified, sanctified, crucified, stupefied, cross-eyed..” (page 34)

It is clear that the success of the pub is intricately tied into the publican and the drawing power of a good landlord is noted in the “Pub and the People”. Essentially, the publican sets the tone, character and style of the pub. Peace (2008) notes that people want a ‘personal relationship’ with the landlord and want to be treated as individuals not consumers.

Pete Brown in his book, “Man Walks into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer”, highlights the “benign but supreme authority” (page 59) of the landlord, where the publican has to work with the local community, regulars, and customers to keep social order.

Additionally publicans often live along with their family on the promises, so find it hard to escape day-to-day work and family tensions can arise (Smith, 1985). Overall the role of publican is a hard, but rewarding one which can very much make or break a pub.

The other member of staff that often gets attention is the barmaid, but is often denoted in stereotypical and derogatory tones. Sadly, a barmaid’s looks are often focused on rather than her skills, especially in historical writings, with Mass Observation stating “The pub is always full of youthful customers. Barmaids with sex-appeal are a great draw”( Page 56) and that “It is a generally accepted idea that barmaids and barmen drink a lot” (page 63). Barmaids were also blamed by temperance campaigners for attracting men into bars with Marshall (1917) presenting them as “over-dressed, and often engaged merely for… chatter and appearance, to act as a lure and candle-to-moth-like male customers”.

This derogatory and outdated view of barmaids is certainly not true anymore and hospitality workers, both male and female, are well-trained, recruited for their skills, not their looks, and are an essential part of the service provided in pubs.

In 2011 statista data showed that 60% of publicans were male, and 59% of bar staff were women but there is still a 7% gender pay gap between men and women in the hospitality industry

Sadly, as reported by the Morning Advertiser, there are chronic shortages of staff in the hospitality industry and the ability to recruit and maintain good teams is causing significant problems for the hospitality sector as a whole.


Brown, Pete (2010) Man Walks into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer, Pan (2nd Edition)

Cooper, D. (1971) The Beverage Report, London; Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Harrad, F. (2016) The Social Ecology of the Public House, Unpublished Masters Thesis (University of Leicester)

Preece, D. (2008) Change and continuity in UK public house retailing, The Service Industries Journal, 28:8, 1107-1124.

Rowell, T (2015) The Pub Experience: A Qualitative Study of the Tangible and Intangible Aspects of Pub-goers’ Perceptions of Pubs, Unpublished Masters Thesis (University of Leicester)

Schmidt, R.A and Sapsford, R. (1995) Issues of gender and servicescape: Marketing UK public houses to women, International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 23(3), pages 34-40

Smith, M.A. (1985) The Publican: Role Conflict and Aspects of Social Control, The Service Industries Journal, 5(1), 23-36

© Victoria Wells/University of York
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Pubs: History, Consumers, Management, and Protection

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