Initial thoughts on the guidance for reopening pubs

The government has published its long awaited guidance on safely opening pubs, or to give it its full title, ‘Keeping workers and customers safe during Covid-19 in restaurants, pubs, cafes and takeaway services’.

It’s written for employers and business owners, but here are some thoughts from a consumer perspective. 

The language is very much should and not must. So although there is talk about apps for ordering and disposable cutlery, these are not mandatory.

This is helpful for businesses as it allows flexibility and puts the onus on their risk assessments and their decisions about what is safe.

While some people may object to this, it would in practice be impossible to legislate for every leisure and hospitality business. And we think that customers will vote with their feet if they don’t feel businesses are operating safely.

On that latter point, we think it’s a no-brainer for pubs to share their risk assessment, or at least evidence that they have done one.

It’s a really good way for them to reassure customers that they have thought about everything from a customer and an employee perspective.

It’s also a good way to deflect potential criticism such as “Why aren’t your staff wearing facemasks?” As the guidance says, “face coverings are not a replacement for the other ways of managing risk”. You could cover of all your other decisions with reference to the guidance in the same way.

We also think it’s interesting that keeping customer data for 21 days is only a should. We’d be pretty happy to provide contact details to a venue, as tracking and isolating is going to be the only way to return to anything like normal.

People may have concerns about data protection but it’s all covered by GDPR, and it can be as simple as a behind-the-counter visitor book, with the relevant pages destroyed after 21 days.

Incidentally, there is a slightly mysterious line in the guidance about government working with the industry to design a suitable recording system for customer contact, which rather implies pubs won’t need to worry about this if they don’t already have something in place.

A couple of other things really grabbed us:

  • There is advice to keep background music and noise low to discourage shouting. This is likely to have as many fans as detractors. 
  • Public transport limitations still apply so venues are encouraged to think about providing bike rack space or other ways to discourage travel by public transport. Obviously this is going to impact more on venues where people are going to become intoxicated. So pubs will need to think about who is within walking distance, which may not be their existing clientele. 
  • Limits on gatherings still apply – although this will be relaxed to being able to see another household.

The latter is probably the most important point for us.

As we wrote in our newsletter the other week: What is the point of going back to the pub if you can’t meet up with friends, let alone mingle with strangers?

This isn’t to say we disapprove of people going to the pub when they reopen.

We’re lucky to have our own drinking bubble, and doubly lucky to have the Drapers round the corner selling takeaway cask ale.

Without these things, we’d probably be more likely to be heading pubwards on, or soon after, 4 July. 

Ultimately,for us, going to the pub is more than an economic transaction.

It’s about enjoying a space that isn’t yours. It’s about mixing with other people in your community. It’s about (slightly) losing your inhibitions. It’s about popping in on instinct, or staying for one more than you should.

These are all things that are fundamentally at odds with battling a pandemic.

There will be plenty of other customers who are too nervous to go back into public spaces at the moment.

Many people are uneasy about the fact that “the two metre rule has been relaxed” without a clear accompanying message from scientists that this is “safe”. Of course people will have their own thresholds about what they consider to be safe, and ultimately both this and the progress of the fight against the pandemic are outside the control of the pub landlord.

So what’s the solution?

It’s easy for us to say as consumers and armchair publicans but a hybrid business model seems to be the way to go.

Offer a cut down and carefully controlled space for people to visit but also provide takeaway – which will also provide some kind of contingency in the event of future lockdowns.

Long Live the Jug and Bottle!