Running a pub has never been an easy option – and it’s getting harder, says a Norwich licensee.

Dawn Hopkins, a former IT worker, swapped roles in 2000 to pull pints behind a bar and has never looked back.

Now vice chair at the Campaign for Pubs group, the landlady of the Rose Inn is a keen advocate of the trade, but it has been a rollercoaster, she admits.

“It’s not for the faint-hearted,” she says. “It’s never been an easy option. Anyone thinking they are going to run a pub and semi-retire there, that’s never really happened. It’s always been a difficult industry – just in terms of the hours you have to put in. It’s getting harder – like everybody else we are being squeezed.”

Pubs have faced a bruising time over the last two years as the pandemic brought the hospitality sector to a standstill – and she admits there were moments when she was unsure about whether her business would pull through.

“There have been times I have been incredibly scared, when I didn’t know I was going to make it. And times when I felt uplifted when people started coming back in.”

The scars have been deep, she says. “It has been very, very difficult financially, emotionally and psychologically.”

And she adds: “I think we are still going to see pub closures and I don’t think we are going to see a race for people to take these pubs on. I think we are going to lose quite a few because people are going to look at the situation.”

Coming out of the downturn, pub landlords are looking ahead and trying to be positive – but with bills landing on mats, it is not the easiest of times for publicans – or their customers, she says.

“We are in a situation where our costs are going up but so is the general public’s.

“I have definitely got customers who have said to me they are going to come in a bit less or cut down purely because their gas and electricity bills are going up,” she says.

Pubs must look at their offer, and in today’s market “it’s not just a case of having a pub with some beer and opening the door,” she says.

Food, or live music or other events will be some of the draws that licensees look at. Beers gardens are also a big plus, she says. While her pub is wet-led, she did introduce stone-baked pizzas and these have gone down well. “I think food is probably going to take a bigger hold in pubs now,” she says.

To succeed in the industry you must be stubborn and focused, she adds.

“I would like to think there’s a bright future. I think a lot of things have changed over the last few years. People have got used to drinking at home. They have changed their habits,” she says.

“Where we have had opportunities before with office workers, that’s all changing. Pubs are still the best place to go out and socialise to get away from everything. They are still great places to go to.”