Tuesday 11 August 2020
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huffingtonpost - 1 month ago

Pubs Facing Significant Pressure To Open As Super Saturday Gets Underway

Publicans have described facing significant pressure to open on Saturday in the wake of the government s announcement that they could welcome back customers. Despite polling carried out by the i newspaper finding that fewer than one in ten people in England intended to head to pubs and restaurants on their reopening weekend, owners and staff up and down the country are bracing for the arrival of thousands of people on super Saturday . Pubs were officially allowed to open from 6am on Saturday, and leading political figures have encouraged the public to support their locals with MP Jacob Rees Mogg calling on pub-goers to go back to drinking a yard of ale . After more than three months without income, many publicans are desperate to reopen but there are concerns that the hype around the further easing of lockdown measures has left them obliged to do so, even in the face of health fears. Damon Horrill, who runs a small network of pubs in Cheshire, told HuffPost UK that publicans had felt significant pressure to open their doors, even if they had concerns about the government s July 4 opening date. He said: There s a lot of pressure on landlords to open, regardless of whether or not they think it s the right thing to do because, in customers minds, we re supposed to. The reaction has been very positive towards reopening. We haven t trialled saying: We re not going to open on July 4 so we don t know what the reaction would have been, but the general consensus is that if we didn t open we would have been going against government guidelines and would be wrong to do so. The research we did leading up to opening indicated that if we didn t open we would be perceived as going against the guidance and restricting customers liberties, as opposed to doing something safe. That was very much part of our decision making, the fact that we felt obliged to, from the customers point of view, deliver what the government suggested. Horrill s team have spent weeks ensuring that social distancing measures can be adhered to inside their pubs, putting up posters and separating tables.Staff will be tell every customer they speak to that they are not being served to get drunk, and asking them not to be surprised or upset if they are spoken to as the day goes on. Horrill added: We ordinarily have security for busy times, just for extra control and to make sure numbers aren t exceeded, and that s the plan for this weekend. We have got additional security staff who will be in a position to ensure safety. While pubs must put in place social-distancing measures, senior politicians have made it clear that customers are responsible for their own safety with Boris Johnson on Thursday urging the public not to overdo it . Both inner-city and rural pubs alike have spent a frantic few weeks ensuring that their venues are safe for their regulars to return many of them preparing ahead of the government s announcement and doing their best to pre-empt the rules. Claire Alexander, who runs two pubs in the Cotswolds with her husband, said: We ve spent a long time on making preparations and taking all the precautions because the guidance came through so late we had to crack on with it ourselves. A soft launch on a Monday for example, as opposed to starting on a Saturday, would have been ideal, but this government haven t done anything sensible throughout this whole bloody pandemic. Retail got six weeks, we got ten days. It s just ridiculous. We haven t been able to rely on our government for anything, let alone making our businesses safe. In order to ensure that customers keep the required distance, staff will be doing a meet and greet service at the door, a one way system will be in place, a staggered, mandatory booking system has been introduced and the pub will operate at just 40% capacity. Those visiting for food will have a 90 minute slot to eat, while drinkers will be welcomed in hourly slots. Both pubs are now also operating a five-day week, which gives the team enough flexibility to be able to work in two staff bubbles to limit their exposure to colleagues. Alexander added: We want everyone who visits to feel safe, we re really worried for city pubs where people are just going to be turning up and it s going to be much harder to manage. We ve had to be very proactive in managing it so that our customers feel safe, spread the word and come back. There s been a real feeling of solidarity. We ve had really kind messages from other publicans and customers who had booked in with us from around the world, and that has been amazing to see we ve had people come to help us throughout. But even with a fully-booked pub and the support of the community, Alexander said the real test of her business s survival will come over the next months. She added: We can t go on forever at 40% capacity we ve got to start softly and slowly, but it does mean we are going to be operating at a loss. We re barely going to cover our overheads, and even then it s only because we ve managed to have our mortgage holiday extended. We re also really worried about winter we re just going to have to hang on as tightly as we can and hope for a bumper year next year. While Alexander has been able to get a rent holiday for her pubs, the vast majority of publicans rent their premises and have been left crippled by their landlords expectations of full rent despite being unable to operate. Rob Star runs six pubs, each with a different freeholder, in London, and faced running into hundreds-of-thousands of pounds of debt as lockdown wore on. Despite his only income being from a takeaway service at his pub in Hackney, he has ben expected to pay 100% of his rent throughout the crisis. He told HuffPost UK: All of our pubs are opening on Saturday. Some of them are a lot bigger than others, and with those it s easier to make them viable while the smaller ones especially without much outside space are a lot more difficult. But because we haven t traded in so long we wanted to get them all open even if some of them are making a loss. Like most other pubs, Star and his team have prepared to open by splitting tables, installing signage, implementing a booking system and preparing to launch a new app which customers can use to order table service. He said: I would have much preferred it if the government had said: Let s open all the pubs on Monday that would have given us a week to get used to the launch of the app or new table configuration. It maybe would have allowed people to gradually reintegrate into the pub rather than everybody wanting to go back all at once. I think the government guidance has been infamously vague from the off it doesn t matter if they re speaking to the hospitality sector or the public in general. Because it s based on recommendations, a lot of the onus has been put back on the business owner and then, as an extension of that, the customer. We re almost reliant upon people self-policing while our management do their best to enforce these new rules. But we also have to remember that it s a hospitality environment, people are going out to have fun and socialise. You don t want somebody constantly saying: Oh, watch out, you re 50 centimetres away from that person people need to be able to still enjoy themselves in those environments. I think there s a balance between making sure people are safe and providing an environment where people can relax and have fun. British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive and former Conservative MEP Emma McClarkin told HuffPost UK that pubs had the freedom to open on their own terms. She said: Pubs have the option of when they choose to open, and we are delighted that we have that opportunity to open. Remember, there are other sectors that would love the opportunity to open and we ve been given that chance. We have adhered to the safer workplace guidance and created that safe environment for our customers with all those mitigation factors. But remember, these people are publicans we are working as hosts, we are not policemen. It [Saturday] is going to rely heavily on that relationship that we have of respect, and to protect one another by respecting the new procedures, the new layout and the staff and what the new information they re having to tell you. But it s still a social environment, it s still a pub, and while it s going to be slightly different, they are publicans at the end of the day. McClarkin added that of the pubs opening on Saturday, the BBPA expected only around half to break even while 40% are expected to make a loss and just 10% turn a profit. She added: In order to maintain the beer and pub sector as we know it we re going to need continued government support. We re going to be in this situation for a long period of time, and it s going to take an awfully long period of time to rebuild customer confidence to anywhere near the levels we saw pre-Covid. We re going to need continued support from the government throughout all of this, and it s going to have to come up with a special package for hospitality. This is the first step in the long road recovery for the sector. Related... Here’s What People In England Can Do From ‘Super Saturday’ Pubs Told They Can t Open Before 6am Amid Fears Of Midnight Parties Why ‘Super Saturday’ May Not Feel So Super For The NHS And Public Health

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