The ultimate guide to setting up a micro pub

setting up a micropub

It’s easy to see the appeal of owning your own pub: after all, what beer lover wouldn’t want to spend all day pulling pints, seeking out the best new beverages, and chatting with their punters over the bar? If you love the idea of swapping the rat race to run your own public house, then setting up a micro pub could just be the route into the industry for you.

At a time when the future of the traditional British boozer seems to be hanging in the balance, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s not the best time to open your own pub. Rising rents and competition have forced many traditional pubs to shut up shop, with recent figures showing that Britain has lost almost a quarter of its pubs since 2001 (ONS). But, as these pint-sized watering holes tend to have lower running costs and operate out of smaller premises, many micro pub owners are finding success where traditional pubs have struggled.

It’ll take plenty of work, but if you’re willing to learn new skills and invest your time (and a fair bit of money), you should stand every chance of opening a successful establishment. To help you get the ball rolling, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to setting up a micro pub. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about finding a venue, getting licensed, and more, including:

  • What is a micro pub?
  • Things to consider before you start
  • Micro pub startup costs
  • Writing a business plan
  • Licensing a micropub
  • The venue
  • Essential micropub equipment
  • Finding suppliers

What is a micro pub?

A micro pub is a small licensed establishment, usually consisting of just one small room with a bar. The primary focus in most micro pubs is serving unique, local beer and ales of the sort that you won’t find in run-of-the-mill chain pubs, often sourcing drinks from independent microbreweries in the local area. While some micro pubs also serve bar snacks, they generally don’t offer much in the way of food (unlike a gastro pub), instead focusing on serving quality beers and ales.

Though there are no set micro pub rules, micro pubs also tend to do things in a more traditional way than most modern pubs. They’re intended to be spaces for conversation and socialising over a drink, and most micropubs avoid electronic distractions, like loud music, TVs, or fruit machines. One micro pub in Kent even went as far as banning the use of mobile phones completely, fining punters £1 if their phones rang or beeped. The owner raised over £20,000 for charity in just a year! (The Drinks Business).

A micro pub is always independently owned, meaning it isn’t owned by a brewery or larger company. Unlike a leasehold public house — where the pub landlord can only serve the drinks and beers supplied by the brewery that owns the building — an independent free house can serve whatever beers and ales the owner likes.

These small but mighty pubs are often a lifesaver in small villages or towns that have lost all of their pubs, providing a sorely needed space to socialise and sample a few quality ales. As smaller venues, they tend to have lower running costs, which means they’re in a better position to weather the difficult market conditions. With over 300 of these pint-sized pubs currently registered with the Micro Pub Association, and new pubs opening all the time, it’s clear that the future of the British boozer could be micro-sized.

Before you start: key considerations


Before you make any major decisions, you should stop and think about whether you’re up to the task of starting a micro pub. The industry can be tough for independent pubs of any size, so you’ve got to be totally ready to give it 100% if you want to succeed. Here, we’ve shared the most important things you should think about before taking the plunge.

Do you love beer?

It might sound obvious, but if you want to attract serious beer fans to your pub, you need to be passionate about it, and have the know-how and enthusiasm to seek out the best new ales from local suppliers. You’re probably also going to be fielding questions from curious customers about your beer selection daily, so you’ll need to know your stout from your porter and be confident when sharing your knowledge.

Are you a ‘people person’?

Most micro pub owners tend to work the bar themselves, at least to begin with. Your customers will want to be greeted by a friendly face, so it will help if you’re a people person who’s outgoing and happy to chat to your customers as you serve.

Could you work unsociable hours?

As with any business, running a micro pub will make major demands on your time. If you’ll be manning the bar yourself (as most micro pub owners do) you’ll need to be in the pub on most evenings and during the weekend, meaning you could be working some pretty unsociable hours. Of course, assuming you love to spend time chatting with your patrons, this might not be such a bad thing, but it’s still a major commitment.

In addition to time spent behind the bar, you’ll also be busy maintaining your venue, racking and tapping new beers, and finding new suppliers while your pub is closed. So, as with any business venture, you’ll need to be prepared to go above and beyond normal working hours.

Do you have any experience in the industry?

You’re likely to be running your pub on your own, at least to start with. So, if you can, it’s best to try and get some experience in the hospitality industry. This will teach you about serving drinks, keeping the bar neat and organised, maintaining essential equipment, and dealing with customers.

Lots of people decide to start a micro pub after retiring, and so aren’t really in a position to get work in a pub or bar. But, there are still ways to learn the ropes. Volunteering at beer festivals is a great way to get a little hands-on experience, like pulling pints, transporting and tapping casks and kegs. Plus, you’ll get a valuable opportunity to network with other industry professionals, as well as chatting to the sort of beer enthusiasts you’ll be hoping to attract to your micro pub.

You could also consider taking a pub management course. These will also teach you about health and safety, legislation and bookkeeping, so they’re a great idea if you’ve got a little experience in hospitality but want to learn more about the management side of things.

Micro pub start-up costs

micro pub costs

Although the costs tend to be lower than for a larger traditional pub, setting up a micro pub will still mean a sizable investment. So, you should have a realistic idea of the costs involved, along with a plan for financing your micro pub. To help you figure out a rough estimate of how much you’ll need, we’ve listed the various micro pub start-up costs below.

Venue costs

Your venue will by far the biggest expense, and it’s probably the most important decision you’ll make when setting up a micro pub. Whether you let or buy will depend on your budget, although nearly all new micropub owners choose to rent. You can get an idea of the average commercial rent in your area by checking sites like Zoopla and Rightmove.

Your venue doesn’t need to be in use as a pub already: you’re just looking for a small, affordable retail or commercial space that you think has the potential to become a cosy, characterful little pub. Remember that you’ll need to seek change of use permission from the council if you buy a commercial building that is currently not in use as a pub.

Furthermore, if your venue needs major work or renovations (like adding toilets or expanding the premises to create a beer cellar) you will need to get an estimate for this from a professional and factor it into your budget. Don’t forget about the exterior, too — you’ll likely need a few hundred pounds to cover the cost of signage and redecoration to make your pub look inviting.

Business rates

As you’ll be running your pub from a non-domestic property — regardless of whether you rent or own it outright — you’ll need to pay business rates. This works a bit like council tax and is charged based on the ‘rateable value’ of your pub — that’s the market value of the property. You can learn more about business rate on the government portal.

Equipment costs

Even a small, simple micropub will need a few pieces of essential equipment. You can expect to spend a few thousand pounds on beer taps, lines, and other bar equipment , including fitting a bar if there isn’t one already. You’ll also need money for tables, chairs, and seating: many micro pub owners opt for second hand or salvaged furniture, as it keeps costs down and can add a rustic charm.

Licensing costs

You’ll need various licenses to sell alcohol , and there are usually fees to pay when you apply for these. Learn more about how the fees apply to you in our guide to licensing.

Insurance costs

You’ll need to set aside some money in your budget for insurance costs. One you’ve found your venue, you’ll need to get quotes for the following types of insurance policy:

Buildings and contents insurance.
Public liability insurance.
Employer’s liability insurance (if you plan to start hiring staff at some point).

The exact cost of these policies will depend on a number of things, such as the size of your micro pub, your opening hours, and the type of activities you plan to offer. If you only plan to get a licence to serve beer (and no wine or spirits) then this can also affect the price, too.

Remember to shop around and get quotes from several business insurance providers, as this will help you to get the best price.

Writing your micro pub business plan

mirco pub business plan

Just like any other venture, you’ll need to write a micro pub business plan. This will cover every aspect of your pub in detail. You’ll be relying on your business plan a lot during the first year of business. Most lenders or investors will also want to look at your business plan before approving you for a loan, so it’s essential if you want secure finance.

Your micro pub business plan should include a clear outline of your objectives and goals for the first three years of operation, along with a plan of how you’re going to achieve them. It will help to include some troubleshooting solutions that you’ll fall back on if things don’t go quite to plan. After your micro pub is up and running, remember to go back and amend your business plan as your circumstances and goals change. To learn more about writing a business plan, take a look at this guide from INNConfidence.

Register your business

Once you’ve written a detailed micro pub business model and found a venue, it’s time to formally register your micro pub as a business. This is the process of registering your company with the government.

Most people choose to register their micropub as a sole trader, partnership or limited company, as this makes the process of paying taxes much easier. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of legal status, and ultimately, the best sort of status for your micropub will depend on how much admin you’re prepared to do. To learn more about both types, take a look at the guide to setting a business on the government website.

What licensing do you need for a micro pub?

pub licensing

Under UK law, any business which sells or serves alcohol must hold the correct licenses, and this includes micro pubs. To operate a micro pub in England and Wales, you must:

  • Obtain a premises licence: This is issued by the local council.
  • Appoint a designated premises supervisor (DPS): This can be you or someone else who you employ, as long as they work on the premises regularly. The DPS must hold a valid personal licence, which can be obtained from the local council. They will need to achieve a qualification with an accredited training provider before applying.
  • Obey the regulations: Both you and your staff should follow the rules laid out in the Licensing Act 2003.
  • Food and drink licence: If you want to serve hot drinks or snacks, you’ll need to get a licence for this, too.
  • Register with the local authority’s environmental health: If you’re going to be serving any sort of food, then you’ll have to register with the local council 28 days before you start.

We have a guide to UK licensing laws for the hospitality industry which can teach you about your legal obligations in more depth, and help to guide you through the application process.

Scotland and Northern Ireland both have their own licensing laws (the Licensing Act 2005 and The Licensing Order 1996, respectively). So, if you plan to open a micro pub in these jurisdictions, you should take a look at the relevant information on the government website.

Finding the venue

micropub venue

By far the most important decision you’ll need to make is picking your venue. Once you’ve gotten your personal licence and written a rough outline of your business plan, you can begin hunting for your dream venue.

Location is key. Your micro pub should be located where there’s demand, so consider the demographics of the local people and scope out the competition in the local area (if any). You’ll also want to think about how compatible your micro pub will be with the surrounding businesses and properties, as the neighbours may object if they think your pub is going to disturb them.

Most people choose to convert old shops into micropubs, as they’re small in size and tend to be quite affordable. In many places, it’s also a good way to fill a commercial space that was otherwise sitting empty, meaning you’ll be benefiting the local community.

But, it doesn’t have to be a shop: you can start a micropub in almost any space that you think is in a good location, as long as you can get the relevant planning permission for a change of use. All sorts of unlikely buildings have been successfully converted into micropubs, from former post offices to former railway arches. So, it’s really a matter of seeing whereabouts in your area could benefit from a new local, then exploring what sort of venues are currently on the market.

While a compact, cosy space is the aim of the game, remember that you’ll also need space for toilets, and a place for racking and cooling the casks and kegs: many micropubs have a small cellar for this, although an adjacent room — like a shop stockroom — is often just as good.

Change of use

Under UK law, all land and buildings are sorted into various categories called ‘Use Classes’. Pubs and drinking establishments are in the A4 class, so if you’re planning to buy a retail space, you’ll need to apply for a change of use planning permission. You can learn more about this process, including how to apply, on the Planning Portal.

Essential micro pub equipment


Once you have the bar up and running, you’ll need to stock up on all the essential pub equipment before you can open your doors to the public. In this section, we’ll run through all the micro pub equipment you’ll need to get your venue up and running. Remember, at Alliance Online, we stock an extensive range of pub and bar equipment, so you can find many of the items listed below in our collection.

On the bar

This is where the majority of your equipment will be and is likely to be the area where you spend the most money. To serve a range of beer, wine, and spirits, you’ll need the following essentials:

  • Beer pumps and taps: Craft ales will need a beer pump, while draught beer requires taps. A professional company will be able to supply and fit these for you. Owing to the size of the bar, many micro pubs start off with just two or three taps, then add more as the business develops. You can always supplement your selection with canned and bottled craft beer if you want to offer a wider selection.
  • Drip mats: These are positioned underneath your beer taps and pumps to catch any run off when pulling pints.
  • Pegs, spiles, and a mallet: For tapping and stopping casks.
  • Bottle openers: A wall-mounted or under-counter bottle opener is a good idea, as you won’t need to worry about losing it!
  • Dispensers and measures: For wine and spirits.
  • An ice bin and scoop.
  • Bar top organisers and storage caddies: These will keep the bar organised, and customers will be able to help themselves to the likes of napkins, straws, and stirrers.
  • Storage solutions for your glassware: An overhead rack is a convenient way to store glasses, particularly stemmed glasses. If you’re storing your glasses on shelves, remember to lay down some glass mats to protect them and hold them in place.
  • A good selection of cleaning supplies: This should include cloths and sponges, cleaning fluids, and a mop and bucket. A good supply of kitchen roll will also come in handy in case of spillages.

Typically, you’ll also need some back-bar refrigeration for soft drinks and canned beer, and milk if you plan to serve hot drinks.

A till and card reader

You’ll need a way of taking your hard-earned cash, so you’ll have to invest in a till. Nowadays, in the age of contactless payments, people are carrying cash with them less often, so you’ll certainly want to consider investing in a card reader. Plus, contactless card readers can really save time when you’ve got a lot of customers to serve at once.

Things have come a long way since the days of bulky chip and PIN machines, and there are now app-based models available that can sync up with your phone or tablet. Many of these are very affordable and simple to use, though you should bear in mind that you’ll have to pay a small fixed fee with every transaction — usually around 1.6–1.9% of the overall purchase amount.

Hot drinks service

OK, so it might not be beer. But broadening your soft drink offering to include tea and coffee will give non-drinkers a little more choice, and it can also help you to attract customers during lunchtime hours, too.

If you want to offer tea, then a water boiler will come in handy: you can also stick to a regular kettle if you think you don’t have the demand to justify buying a boiler just yet. In terms of coffee, you’ll need to think about what type you want to serve, and what your budget will cover. An espresso machine makes the tastiest, best looking coffees, but the downside is that they do represent a substantial investment, so might not be the best choice if you’re on a tight budget.

You’ll also need to be ready to spend time making coffees, which can be quite a labour-intensive process. If you’re manning the bar yourself and don’t want to spend too long on each coffee, a bean to cup machine might be a better option: these all-in-one machines will also do most of the work for you, so it’s great for making coffees when you’re rushed off your feet by thirsty punters.

If you’re looking for a more affordable option, then a quick filter coffee machine may be a better choice.


You’re going to need plenty of pub glassware behind your bar. When you’re running a micro pub, it’s especially essential to have a range of specialist beer glasses, as this will show your customers that you really know your stuff and ensure that you’re serving each ale to perfection. Remember to have a variety of sizes, including pint, half pint, and two thirds glasses, and assorted shapes and sizes to suit different types of beer. Tasting glasses are also a must if you plan to offer tasting selections in thirds or quarters of a pint.

If you’ve invested in a coffee machine, you’ll definitely want to get some specialist coffee cups to suit each kind of coffee.

Dishwashing and cleaning

Unless you want to spend hours scrubbing pint glasses, you’ll need a dishwasher. You want something which is reasonably compact and is purposely built to wash lots of glasses efficiently.

Your kegs will require cleaning to keep your beer tasting great. You can do this using a beer line cleaner, which will sanitise and clean the inside of your beer kegs — read more in our buying guide.

Serving food and bar snacks

A micro pub is all about beer and conversation, and the focus shouldn’t really be on food. But, if you want, you can always open up an additional source of revenue by offering a few bar snacks to peckish customers. Crisps, nuts, and pork scratchings are all popular choices for micropubs.

Exactly what sort of snacks you can offer will depend on how much space you’ve got. If you have a small area in the backroom where you could store and prepare simple snacks, then you could even offer a few cold items. Sharing charcuterie boards, sandwiches, cakes and sweet treats are all simple to prep and serve, so they’re great options if you’d like to start offering food but don’t want to be too ambitious at first.

Seating area

micropub guide

You’ll need to stock up on a selection of comfy seating, including bar stools, tables and chairs. Many micro pub owners prefer to go for second hand or salvage styles, as this builds character.

Once you’ve got your seating area set, don’t forget to add beer mats to protect the surfaces of your tables. Most pubs get their mats as promotional items in shipments from breweries and suppliers, but you could also consider creating your own branded beer mats, too.

Finding suppliers

alcohol suppliers

Good beer should be at the heart of any micro pub. If you want to keep your customers coming back for more, it’s essential to have an impressive array of fine ales and beers on tap at all times. It’s a good idea to mix more drinkable styles, like session IPAs and pale ales, with a couple of unusual choices and seasonal specials, so adventurous beer connoisseurs can try something new. In time, if you find that a certain beer is very popular, you can consider keeping it on the taps permanently as a house beer.

So, you’ll need to shop around and see what sort of breweries are operating in the local area, work to form a relationship with them. Most breweries will be happy to arrange private tours and tasting sessions for new business clients looking to place an order.

If spending your days behind the bar of your very own pub sounds like a dream come true, then starting a micro pub could be the career for you. While it can be a lot of hard work, if you’re willing to put it in the hours, you should stand every chance of success.

Remember, you can find everything you need to get your pint-sized pub up and running in our extensive collection of pub and bar equipment. And, don’t forget to keep up with the latest catering and hospitality news in the Alliance Online blog!

The Ultimate Guide to Setting Up a Micro Pub
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The Ultimate Guide to Setting Up a Micro Pub
It’s easy to see the appeal of owning your own pub: after all, what beer lover wouldn’t want to spend all day pulling pints, seeking out the best new beverages, and chatting with their punters over the bar? If you love the idea of swapping the rat race to run your own public house, then setting up a micro pub could just be the route into the industry for you.
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Alliance Online
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