Following the rumours that pubs are to be allowed to open with further restrictions, can I, as a former licensee, say this is not opening at all. Though some campaigners may see a food-led pub, selling just soft drinks, as a step in the right direction, it would be the death knell for the trade itself.
The problem the industry has now is how to tempt people back, how to get them back in the habit of going to the pub. As the weather warms up, how do they get Joe Public out of their gardens, where they are able to smoke, socialise and drink cheap supermarket beer.
They are not going to manage it with a huge raft of regulations costing the average pub its USP; an atmosphere of social conviviality. People go to a pub to mix, to meet friends, have a beer and put the world to rights. Sat at separate tables, unable to join friends, with pool, cards and darts banned, forced to eat a “substantial meal” and sent home to bed early after a few soft drinks is not going to work.
Government advisors are being blamed for a worry that a few drinks will lead to a fall in social distancing, yet when the pubs opened last year, there was no lift in cases and less than 1% of bar staff caught the virus. The second wave that hit in late autumn was fuelled by schools and colleges, ably aided and abetted by supermarkets and hospitals. The hospitality industry accounted for just 1.8% of Track and Trace cases.
In a similar vein, a return to the tier system is more damaging to pubs than staying closed. Stock has to be ordered in, with cask ales particularly having a relatively short shelf life. If closure then follows, and previous experience tells us this is often at a few days notice, these products are then wasted. Uncertainty is never good for a business. Who, as a customer, would book a function a few months away, not knowing if the place is going to be open or not.
It all adds to the problems of ongoing rent debts, power bills, business rates, insurance et al. These are costs that do not simply go away when the business is closed. Pub owners, too, are feeling the pressure. Marstons, previously a healthy growing business, has had three hostile takeover bids, the highest of which equates to just 80% of its share price a year ago.
We were told that vaccines were the pathway to a return to some kind of normality. Then let the stage when the last of the most vulnerable groups have received their jabs be the stage when the pubs reopen, with no further threats of closure and unfettered by government red tape.
Martin Day – Party Secretary