We’re getting increasingly cross at the regurgitation of the Government’s line that the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme is designed to boost pubs, as in this piece at BBC News.
First, the 50 per cent discount only applies to food and non-alcoholic beverages. That means only pubs serving food can possibly benefit.
But more serious in our view is that the scheme incentivises sitting in. There is no equivalent discount for places operating as takeaways which means that restaurants and pubs which have decided not to open on safety grounds – in the sincere belief that they’re doing the right thing – are going to lose out.
A number of our favourite Bristol pubs such as The Drapers Arms, The Good Measure and The Plough – have made the difficult decision not to open.
And these aren’t all micropubs like The Drapers – The Plough is a fairly normal, average-sized pub.
This along with the behaviour we witnessed at the weekend has really made us question which pubs we personally want to support, and how, while the coronavirus is still with us.
We’ve now been to the pub, or rather two pubs, four times since they reopened, not counting many trips to the Drapers for takeaway beer.
It felt important to at least try going to a pub or two once they had reopened. After all, we write about beer and pubs and desperately want pubs to survive. We’d also rather the economy didn’t crash further. And Government messaging around “enjoying what you used to do” probably played its part, too.
In both cases, days apart, we went to pubs that were part of large chains, with apps and carefully stated rules, which provided some initial reassurance. Both are also pubs that we’ve visited a lot and would like to see stay open. (There are many more pubs in Bristol that also fit that criteria, of course).
But both also have food offerings that will allow them to benefit from the VAT cut and the discount scheme, so perhaps they’re not the pubs that need our love right now.
Six weeks ago we wrote fairly positively about the plans for reopening pubs and our thoughts still remain the same. The true pub experience for us is not about an economic transaction – it’s about really enjoying a space that isn’t yours and mingling with others. And we think it’s almost impossible to achieve this while also maintaining social distancing. We’re sure the people taking the piss in the pub on Saturday weren’t doing it maliciously, they’d just had a few and wanted to socialise properly, like they would have done pre-pandemic.
Government messaging has not helped, with the emphasis on getting back to normal, rather than reinforcing the point that you’re still supposed to be distanced from other households even if you meet up with them down the local.
Either they have no idea why people go to the pub or how they behave, or they know and are choosing to keep the message vague in the vain hope that a few extra pints sold will somehow save the hospitality industry.
As everything in life is now reduced to risk assessment vs economic benefit, this makes the case all the more plain for continuing with takeaways for most of our Bristol drinking. The pub (The Drapers, primarily) gets the economic benefit and it remains much less risky for them, for us and our community.
This is our personal decision. We’re not criticising those who want or need a cheap meal out at this time – anything to stay cheerful, really.
Nor are we having a pop at those whose only option for human contact is to visit a pub, or who need to spend some time outside their house to keep their brains healthy.
And, of course, we appreciate that being able to enjoy an off licence experience at home while happily paying pub prices for beer is a sign of our privilege.