The trade is in crisis. As UK lockdown and with it the closure of our pubs, now into its 11th week, continues, things are getting seriously bad. The trade press and commentators now have everything pinned on a limited re-opening on the 4th July, but will this save many of our pubs? The answer is likely a resounding "no".
The Government continues to dither, but already preparations are being made. Pub cellars are being emptied of old and rancid beer, lines are being cleaned and renovated, breweries are slowly resuming production on the assumption that the green light will soon be given. Let's hope they are right, but even if they are, success for brewers and publicans and the secure future of jobs will very much depend on what sort of re-opening we get. But of course, above all, we have to get that elusive nod.
There has to be preparation time too as the trade makes very clear. Breweries need to gear up production, cellar teams need to sort out their wares. And then there is front of house staff. Most are on furlough and if there isn't to be a huge loss of jobs soon - and there likely will be anyway - they need to be recalled and retrained in how social distancing is to work in their particular environment. And here's the problem. We don't know how it will be envisaged. Will it be regulated? If not how will it all operate? The Government, though under great pressure to reduce distancing requirement from two to one metre, is saying that it will be decided by the 4th of July - so no preparation time and the resulting "hoping for the best" that sees brewing re-commence and preparations being made.
The stakes are high. The Publican's Post says "Without certainty by the end of this week, it is claimed that hundreds
of thousands of jobs could be lost throughout the industry, and result in many permanent pub closures – with upcoming changes to the government’s furlough scheme estimated to cost an additional £120m
according to the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA)."
Which pubs will open and how will they feel and look? We have an idea from two decent sources: Greene King and JD Wetherspoon are spending £15m and £11m respectively on very similar measures. These involve widespread use of perspex screening barriers, staff wearing masks, goggles and gloves, as well as enhancing cleaning of common surfaces, door handles, toilets etc. There will be separate in and out arrangements in every case where it is possible to do so, as well as table service, no standing at the bar and more. In both cases there will be additional staff dedicated to ensuring adherence to measures. I'd imagine too, that door operatives may well be employed in some cases. It really doesn't sound too conducive to enjoyment when you add it all up, but then again, probably better that than not at all. I have no doubt too, that other pub owning companies will be working out what they must do to safely re-open, but it really is all a bit uncertain, both in what is needed and wise and what (if anything) will be mandated and enforced.
For JDW, it may well work - and maybe in some GK pubs too - but what about smaller venues? The sort of place that might be described better as a traditional pub, rather than a large drinking barn. Or small bars and micro pubs where being cheek to jowl and close conviviality is the very attraction? There is no obvious answer. Will the opening of smaller pubs be on the same basis as smaller shops? That is using common sense and maintaining social distancing? I'm guessing not. Either way, they really must make their minds up pronto, whether the benefit outweighs
the risk. Do they transfer it, partially at least, to the individual? The risk then is that there will be a widespread "Bollocks to that" from many local venues who will just carry on as if nothing is amiss. I can think of a few myself where that would quite possibly be the case. For a Government that has so much trouble reading the room and prefers vacillation to action, this is a particularly unwelcome problem.
Overall will pubs largely be allowed to open on a "follow the guidelines basis and beyond that, best endeavours?" Hard questions, because at the end of the day, businesses can't open without profit. Too heavy a hand on the tiller, and they won't open at all, as they will almost certainly lose money.
Customer confidence is still very weak. The virus casts a long shadow and many customers, enjoying cheap drinks at home and beer deliveries to their doorstep, might well be tempted to stay doing so until the all clear. The threat of the virus is still very real. There are uncertain times ahead. Looking forward, the all clear - meaning a return to "as you were" - may never come. Forecast:
Quite a few marginal pubs will never re-open. There will be a cull of breweries too, if
not now, eventually. Government measures can't replace the certainty of
employment forever and if the money isn't there, the result will be
closure and job losses. My remark about the Government isn't a political one. It is through simple observation of what has happened so far. And pubs opening without Government sanction is fanciful nonsense. They'd be uninsured and put licences at risk. Photo credit: Greene King
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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