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08-12-2018, 15:13
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Regular readers will know that I have often praised (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-warm-brown-embrace-of-samuel-smith.html) the cheap prices, unspoilt character and congenial atmosphere of many Sam Smith’s pubs. However, I have certainly not been blind to the capricious and often high-handed way in which the company is run. This was starkly highlighted by this recent employment tribunal case (https://www.rochdaleonline.co.uk/news-features/2/news-headlines/124492/pub-managers-win-unfair-dismissal-tribunal-against-employer?fbclid=IwAR2FdLm9QSeiTLdNZJWecVye9vvb1w6S XGh0ENuKfs6o3t7Yihtae0pX1b0) in which a couple who had run the Roebuck in the centre of Rochdale for many years successfully made a claim against the company for constructive dismissal.
I have heard similar stories of unrealistic targets being set and a total disregard for the realities of the pub business across the bar of more than one Sam Smith’s pub. Reading the above report, it’s hardly surprising that Sam’s are struggling to recruit pub managers, with a number of their pubs currently being shut that on the face of it do not appear to be unviable.
However, it must be said that much of the company’s unique appeal does stem from their pig-headed refusal to follow the fickle winds of fashion in the pub trade. The managers of the Roebuck complained that their inability to offer piped music and TV sport made it harder for them to compete with other pubs, but for many pubgoers the absence of those features is an attraction in itself. And in some locations the formula certainly works. I’ve mentioned before how you will often find the Boar’s Head on Stockport Market Place standing room only at lunchtime on a non-market day, while the Roebuck was reported to be taking nearly £6,000 a week, which is pretty good going.
Could it be the case that, when the notorious Humphrey Smith is finally put out to pasture, Sam’s will end up losing their USP by trying to become more like other pub operators? After all, you once knew exactly what to expect in a Holt’s pub, whereas now it would be very difficult to say what defined them. And the biggest managed pub operator of all doesn’t have music or sports TV either, and is also known for its keen prices.

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