The opening of pubs in the UK marks the end of lockdown. We are, at last, free to do what we do best. Meet up with friends and talk complete bollocks.
Rather than sitting at home alone, we can now meet up and compare conspiracy theories; it’s like Brexit, but better.
There is a lot of pent up frustration, so expect friendly verbal sparring over teachers’ unions and face coverings, which probably won’t be improved by the inability to hug it out.
But, we are free once more, so what does it look like in the humble UK boozer?
In small. independent pubs, you may have to write down your name and phone number, so a pint might mean an invitation to self-isolate within the next 21 days (the length of time they keep the data). There seem to be substantially fewer names on the list than drinkers, and George Clooney is once again a regular.
At the big chains (Greene King/Wetherspoons), you are greeted at the door, asked to clean your hands with sanitiser and asked to download their app. Then, you find a table and either use the app or go to the bar and your order will be delivered to your table.
During the day, you feel socially distanced, in the evenings and at weekends, possibly not so much.
There are fairly wide variations on new pub etiquette, but it’s good to see the UK drinker back in his/her natural habitat. And who knows; it might even herald the start of tipping.
Before the pandemic, pubs were in trouble.
Nik Antona is chairman of Camra, which has been fighting to halt the rate of pub closures for years. Before lockdown, pubs were closing at a rate of about 14 a week. Mr Antona says: “It’s likely we will see more pubs go”.
Among those at greatest risk, are the ones owned by the major pub companies, which are leased to tenants with a contract to buy drinks from the landlord. “A lot of them are unfortunately being billed to pay their leases, even though they cannot open, and that is going to be a problem,” he says.
“Some of them are being allowed to defer payments while they are closed, but that will mean when those pubs re-open, they will be hit with a big bill for the rent.”
Camra has been lobbying chief executives of the ‘big six’ pub companies to stop charging their tenants rent during the enforced period of closure. “When pubs are closed, they have no turnover – so, based on the pub companies’ own preferred rationale, there should be no rent due,” he says.
The pubs best able to survive the storm are those owned by breweries that employ managers to run them. “They will have taken advantage of the government support that is available, and put all their staff on furlough,” he says. “They will likely be able to reopen as normal.”
Emma McClarkin, of the British Beer and Pub Association, says there are 10,000 pubs still without any government grant support because they are above the £51,000 rateable value threshold. “Unless that is abolished, many of those pubs will cease to exist in a matter of weeks putting some 150,000 jobs at risk,” she warns.
“Not only are these pubs viable businesses, they are the social hub that binds us together. The government has got to get its support right, so pubs can re-open and serve their communities once more.”
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, agrees. “The package of support that the government has announced is very generous, unfortunately, the delivery has been far too slow, and businesses cannot wait any longer.”
A lot of businesses are going to hope that habits we have been forced into adopting under lockdown, will cease as soon as possible. Shops need us to stop buying online and pubs, that we stop buying our booze from the supermarkets or corner shops.
The government has tried to do its bit for the British pub and now it is time for the British boozers to do their bit for the pub.
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