Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Covid Cases Rise, What Next for Pubs?

There is a sense of grim foreboding that you can palpably sense in pubs at the moment. Having lurched back into business - after a fashion - with all the accompanying difficulties, custom has more or less halved in many places.  The booking of tables, working out who can be admitted and who can't, the need to sanitise everywhere and everything and the setting up and operating systems to help track and trace has stretched resources and strained nerves.  It has been a large and unwelcome imposition, but what's the alternative?

On the customer side, there is a degree of reluctance to visit pubs, especially from the elderly and a nagging worry that if you enter somewhere where the provision of safety for customers seems less than paramount, that you really shouldn't be there. This nervousness, together with the less than normal atmosphere in many pubs, makes for an experience which is hardly ideal. And it could get worse as the number of Covid-19 cases inexorably rises. At the moment of writing, you are also likely to be unable to get a virus test, even if you feel unwell and few have much confidence of that changing in the short term.

Landlords I have talked to recently are gloomy and concerned. They order only the minimum amount of beer to get by, cut down on variety and some feel that a total lockdown would be the last straw. For quite a few, if doors close again, then they won't open again. But will this happen?  I sense that the Government will only do this as a last resort and rather think that what will happen is much stricter control by authorities, particularly in areas badly affected by high virus rates.  Those there that don't follow either law or guidelines, will find themselves under a closure order toot sweet. 

Of course other options exist. On Twitter some weeks ago I was given a bit of a bashing by some for suggesting that younger adults within society of being less keen to follow the Covid-19  rules, but now it seems that view has become mainstream.   Whether you personally agree or not, there now seems to be a view among experts, that something must be done to curb the spread from those likely to suffer least from Covid exposure, to those that will suffer most - kill your granny and all that.  I have thought for some time that what is most likely to happen is that there will be a limiting curfew of some businesses; pubs, bars and restaurants being among them. While there is little evidence that pubs are particular spreaders of the virus, it does seem that the easy target will be chosen again.  This YouGov poll illustrates some views to support such a thing:

Now anecdotal evidence suggests that as time goes on, younger drinkers may well be the target of such a move. I have the impression - and it is only that - that there is little feeling of invincibility from older drinkers and pub goers and that such a move - as an alternative to closure - would be welcomed by many and not just older people. What is striking about the poll is that even those most likely to be affected by such a curfew, support it.

There is no easy answer to all of this, but I know many mainstream pubs already feel that later opening isn't currently worth much in business terms.  That is not to say it would be welcomed, but a curfew if it happens,  may well be the lesser of two evils.

It wouldn't affect me particularly if this happened, but would it be effective? I just don't know as I'm rarely out and about when youth rules the evening roost.

It is though galling for pubs when so many have tried so hard to make things work, but as always, the minority that don't obey rules, affect those that do disproportionally


Cooking Lager said...

We have missed the boat on immunity. There will be no economic recovery until a vaccine. Too many have concluded that letting the healthy catch it and recover whilst isolating the vulnerable to create an immune society with no transmission is akin to killing people. Afterwards we may conclude that the overall mortality rate for places Sweden was lower but not now.

Without economic recovery until a vaccine pubs will not recover until summer 2021. Freeholds that can afford to mothball stand a chance. Other sites are in flux. Whether they remain as pubs is anyones guess. That's the choice made. It didn't happen by accident.

John West said...

On the customer side, there is a degree of reluctance to visit pubs, especially from the elderly and a nagging worry that if you enter somewhere where the provision of safety for customers seems less than paramount, that you really shouldn't be there.

<< not only “shouldn’t”, but also “don’t want to be”. One pub near me had no track and trace, standard bar service and no discernible changes made, save for some yellow tape on the floor at the entrance. I take the point that some measures may be more performative than others, but a pub that doesn’t care much for my wellbeing is unlikely to warm my cockles.

“The welcome” has long been an achilles heel for the industry - whether it’s closed shop boozers run according to the whims of a sociopath landlord and his court, or anonymous pubco beerhalls with some young’uns in a black shirt.

COVID response dials this stuff up to 11. If they don’t care, why should I?*

*by contrast, some pubs are nailing it and repeat custom is assured

Mark said...

I never go to the pub before 9pm. When I was younger I did, but now I have a child, I can't get out much earlier and the pubs I prefer are quite a walk. So I'd be very badly hit by a 9pm curfew, it would basically stop me going out at all.

The pubs I go to are generally full of middle aged and older people, and remain that way until they close at 11pm, so I assume I'm not the only person who is no longer young and would be affected by a curfew.

(Of course it's not a good thing that there are not many younger people drinking in these pubs in the evening, but that's a discussion for another day)

Matt said...

I know a few, formerly fairly regular, pub goers who now don't go at all, not because they're particularly worried about contracting the virus there but because they've got jobs of some social responsibility and/or they're shopping for elderly relatives who are still shielding so they don't want to sign up for track and trace, with the possibility of getting a phone call to say a fellow customer has tested positive and they therefore need to isolate themselves at home for a fortnight.

granata said...

Cooking Lager- you may jest but some people actually think that herd immunity was (is) an option, e.g. this awful UK government.

Cooking Lager said...

Who is jesting?
Until a vaccine can anyone say the country will be anything other than curfews, restrictions and future lockdowns? Unhospitable hospitality. This is the strategy we have chosen.
Sweden chose differently. It increasingly looks like they were right.

retiredmartin said...

Great read, Tand.

Hard to disagree though I can't say I've found pubs any quieter this month than last year.

Beermunster said...

Talking to the landlord of my local last weekend he says since reopening food sales were back to normal but that was with the help out scheme. Since that ended they are doing about 60% of the usual turnover on food.

Drink sales are down by about 50% and it's not hard to see why. There are families coming in for food but there are practically none of the regulars in for a drink. You can't sit at the bars anyway and now that you can only meet one other person there is little chance of those who just come in for a beer and a chat turning up.

He's lucky, he owns the building outright and says he can afford to tick over without losing too much money for a few months but if they have to close again he will seriously consider closing for good and selling the building. No doubt it would be turned into 5 or 6 houses and then the village pub will be gone forever.

Tandleman said...

Yes 50% drop in wet sales is what I am hearing. Food varies, but drop not as high.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing that seasoned campaigners, like most of us here, are still living in fear of the "deathly" coronavirus, which is now nothing more than a scam of epic proportions. If the virus ever actually existed, it is now a totally spent force. Some people are frightened by the so called rise in cases which simply reflects the rise in testing. These so called cases are not actual cases, I object to giving my contact details and hand sanitising procedures, so now I don't go out too often. Pubs are now often miserable places and most are not worth visiting. Going out for a drink should not feel like a visit to A&E and the outlook for very many pubs is very bleak. Those that think normality will return with a vaccine, clearly know nothing about vaccines or anything at all about what the corrupted UK government is really up to.

electricpics said...

There won't be a vaccine. Not a comprehensive one anyway. Coronavirus mutates and there are already several strains in circulation, so no one vaccine will ever be completely effective, in the same way as flu vaccines.

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electricpics said...

I'm in a pub, one of my 'offices' right now - Tyne Bar in Newcastle - and it's f far from miserable. Lively in fact with people drinking inside and out, and a healthy food trade. They're certainly not all like this but perhaps a little research and selectivity might get you out more?

Unknown said...

@electricpics - You've found a lively pub, is that even legal? Anyway according to you, there's no problem and things are just fine. On that basis Boris's new pub measures should provide a strong stimulus for growth in the licensed trade. Lucky us.

Zircon said...

@granata - Surely you are jesting. Herd immunity was about the only thing this pathetic government got right. The trouble was that it changed its mind after a couple of weeks and introduced panic measures. It has been panicking ever since.

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