Welcome to the forum shortbread. I think a lot of the problems with the ping food that has to be sold in Sams pubs is the way it's prepared and served, so if they can do that right it's half the battle.
New Year's Eve at Sam Smiths pubs is a real bone of contention. The law allows pubs (with a few exceptions) to remain open from the end of normal hours on New Year's Eve to the start of normal hours on New Year's Day without having to apply for the additional hours, so staying open is perfectly legal. The reason the brewery wants managers to close is to save on staff hours, which is hardly good business sense because most managers would work themselves and any extra staff hours would be covered by the extra trade. It's madness to drive away your regulars and potential new regulars on what is potentially the busiest night of the year.
Opinions seems to be split into two camps as to the management change at the New Inn. My local changed managers last year and opinions are split there as well although I prefer to just accept that different people have different management styles, not better or worse, just different, although that's not always the case.