Tuesday, 9 June 2020

A breath of fresh air?

There have been a number of reports that the government is planning to give the go-ahead for pubs to open outside drinking areas from 22 June, which is less than two weeks away. This has been backed up by several breweries such as Black Sheep and Palmer’s announcing that they were restarting brewing cask beer. This has to be seen as good news, and a significant step on the long road back to normality. It was always likely that outside areas would be allowed to open first. However, it’s important not to get carried away.

The first potential problem is obviously the notoriously fickle British weather. While we’ve all been in lockdown, we’ve enjoyed about the driest and sunniest Spring in living memory. But what’s the betting that, as soon as outside drinking is permitted, the heavens will open for weeks on end? And, even if it’s dry, outdoor drinking isn’t that much fun if it’s a bit chilly with a stiff breeze. Plus, unless the social distancing rule is relaxed from 6’6” to 3’3”, the drinkers in the beer garden are going to be pretty thin on the ground.

While some pubs have large outdoor areas, realistically most don’t, particularly in urban areas. So it’s only a very partial benefit for the pub trade. The suggestion has been made that streets could be converted into temporary pubs with seating spilling out on to the road. However, in reality the locations where that could work are pretty limited. Many town-centre streets with pubs on them have already been pedestrianised anyway. Roads fulfil an essential economic function and, with shops reopening next week, are going to be not far off normal levels of traffic. Even if this could be achieved, it would require expensive and time-consuming traffic diversions. Maybe pubs could put a few tables out on the pavement, but is that really going to generate a worthwhile return on an urban street?

Shoppers might not appreciate having to run the gauntlet of boisterous pub regulars who are generally safely confined inside. And, even if you could get hold of it, would it really be worth investing in a stock of outdoor seating for what was likely to be only a few weeks’ trade?

Whether you like it or not, TV football is one of the biggest draws in pubs, and the Premier League is scheduled to restart next week on 17 June. But, even if you could, there’s not much point in showing the football for which you’ve paid an arm and a leg to all and sundry in the street. A large chunk of your normal trade won’t come back until they can go indoors to watch the telly.

So, by all means welcome it and take advantage if you get the opportunity. But don’t imagine for a minute that outdoor drinking alone is going to be the salvation of the pub trade. We won’t be able to say we’ve truly returned to normality until we can huddle together with our friends with a few drinks inside a pub.

17 comments:

  1. Wise words Mudgie, but as you say (and I'm paraphrasing), you have to start somewhere.

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  2. Don’t worry about social distancing. If a crowd of you turn up wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts, you can stand three deep at the bar, no problem.

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  3. I wonder if there's some sort of power struggle going on in the cabinet.

    Either that or someone's playing games with us all.

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  4. I wonder if there's some sort of power struggle going on in the cabinet.

    Either that or someone's playing games with us all.

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  5. We need a demonstration in every pub to campaign for reduced beer duty and have a pint or 2 at the same time.

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  6. Excellent analysis.

    Just thinking about this today, as I passed an attractive Cambridge pub with a large garden. What happens when there's a sudden shower and customers can't take cover in the pub ?

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    1. It's a bit academic now, but I'd expect any pub making a serious effort at this to provide awnings.

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  7. I think you've got to start somewhere. A lot have died & although I am a great pub fan and willing them open obviously,the rest of the population has to be carried along with this. There is also the matter of staff welfare- not everyone in the trade is under 30 and at low risk of virus harm,although this aspect hasn't had that much attention- though there's been plenty of nervousness in other retail sectors- pub staff are no different in this health risk regard. The pressures financially on all industry must be massive, and pubs are no exception. The nation as a whole will not be carried with a sudden full opening pragmatically & significant virus levels are still about. I think we need to run with it & get up and running at below capacity then filter up to full capacity,with one eye on the virus figures. Pandemics have a long history of repeat phases if relaxation is too early. As such I feel a steady as you go approach however imperfect is the right one. Of course all pubs are different & it will cause there to be even more winners & losers depending on individual pub circumstance, but one month to six weeks steady phased returns could save many lives here having got this far.

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  8. This blog attracts the minority that use pubs but public space is just that, public and for the majority.
    If we give it to pubs for street drinking then give it to all street drinkers. Stop persecuting the tramps and the spesh selling offies.
    As for the mothers with kids & grannies that will have to run the gauntlet of street drinking, give 'em a CAMRA leaflet.

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  9. Professor Pie-Tin10 June 2020 at 09:01

    On the plus side sitting outside in shitty weather will at least give the puritans an idea of what smokers have been going through for years.
    Boris isn't stupid.He knows opening pubs is the key to a happy electorate.
    And not going down on one knee like that cretin Starmer yesterday.
    What.a.twat.

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    1. People with the spending power and who go to pubs are in large part the boomers.
      That age group won't have the confidence to return as a majority until this country achieves "New Zealand" status or we're all vaccinated.
      Such a prospect is nowhere in sight.
      The economy is screwed.

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    2. Boomers? I think not. The spending power is with those who come out in droves to spend £5 and lots more on a pint or 2/3 in style bars and craft bars in town and city centres. That's because their finances are driven mostly by cashflow, not accumulation. Many have given up on the idea of owning their own property and are actually quite happy being able to move around at will and spend the money on cars and lifestyle choices. Boomers generally spend as little as possible in more traditional surroundings.

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  10. Anon is right. Pubs are done.
    What % drop in trade does for a business?
    Social distancing coupled with customer reticence knock most of the turnover into the toilet for the rest of the year.
    Most pubs are not coming back.

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    1. Well it won't we the first industry to be killed by factors beyond its control and I doubt it will be the last.
      My home town's prosperity was based on coal mining and the heavy woolen trade, both of which were destroyed in the seventies and eighties.
      But it survived

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  11. What is a 'boomer'? People have been visiting beauty spots,beaches and going on demonstrations in large numbers,this shows that the majority of the population wishes to get on with their lives whilst taking basic health precautions such as regular hand washing. The desire to socialise will mean that pubs will be well patronised once they are permitted to reopen,some pubs,probably those which were unviable before closure will reopen and then close permanently but many will survive and prosper with new venues,encouraged by the inevitable introduction of new licensing and planning laws,opening to fill gaps in the market. The future will not be as grim as some think.

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  12. I am looking forward to that. My local in the village plus the other pub have significant beer gardens, the local one being vast! Great news. The local pubs have been making and delivering food. That has been well received and certainly provided an income stream. One in a village a few miles away opened a shop on site for basic stuff and also fresh veg. Sitting out front with a good old mate having a few cans, though pleasant, doesn't have the ambience of the local pub. Counting down to Monday week.

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