Monday, 22 June 2020

Sucking out all the joy

Over the past couple of weeks there has been a flurry of speculation about whether pubs would actually be allowed to reopen on July 4th and, if so, what kind of restrictions they would have to operate under. The last time I ventured into this territory in discussing the possibility of opening up beer gardens, I was shot down in flames by a negative announcement within a few hours of publishing my blog, so I’ve steered well clear of it since. Remember that, if we were to believe numerous press reports, it would have been possible to have a drink in a beer garden from today onwards.

However, the weight of speculation is now very strongly that pubs will be able to reopen from July 4th, and indeed many brewers have restarted production of cask beer. An official announcement is expected tomorrow. It is likely, though, that they will have to adhere to a variety of onerous restrictions which include, if we are to believe press reports, expecting customers to order and pay via an app, requiring them to book pub visits in advance, and making them sign in and out each time they go to a pub.

As Tandleman points out here, some of these ideas give the impression of having been dreamed up by people who have little idea how pubs actually work and imagine they are something very like table-service restaurants. I asked my Twitter followers in a quick poll whether they would find being expected to order via an app would be a significant deterrent to visiting pubs for a drink. Wjhile a majority thought it was OK, a substantial minority considered that it would be offputting.

Restrictions of this kind may to a greater or lesser degree be workable, although clearly they would be much easier to implement in large chain pubs than small independent ones. Signing in would inevitably lead to a sudden upsurge in pubgoing by Mickey Mouse and Mike Hunt. And they may go completely against some companies’ established business models ;-) Some licensees have expressed concern that, if a single customer ended up testing positive, they may be forced to close their pub for fourteen days, thus putting their reopening plans back to square one. And is it reasonable to expect customers, even if they have an up-to-date smartphone, to download a separate app for each pub they visit? It may be acceptable for regulars, as indeed signing-in would be, but it would reallyput a dampener on chance pub visits.

The whole thing transforms pubgoing into a much more considered and premeditated activity rather than something spontaneous and fun, which is what it should be. During 2019, I visited 207 different pubs, more than half of which were new to me. Many of those visits weren’t even planned an hour ahead, let alone days. In plenty of cases it was just a case of coming across a likely-looking pub in an unfamiliar town. And I do not see why I should be required to identify myself or explain my purpose if I just wander into a pub at random.

During the lockdown we have had to endure numerous unpalatable restrictions, such as queuing for shops, keeping well apart from each other and being strongly urged not to pay in cash. We have gritted our teeth and put up with it, because those were things that we needed to do. But going to the pub for a drink is a discretionary leisure activity. Nobody actually has to do it. And if it is reduced to such a joyless, regimented process it is highly likely that many people will simply conclude that it’s not worth bothering with.

Edit: it seems that Telegraph cartoonist Matt has spotted the potential pitfalls of customer registration:

29 comments:

  1. I'm hoping Hancock's comments about registering and paying through apps will have prompted more in-touch members of government to point out how unworkable and frankly idiotic they were.

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    1. While I would never defend anything that idiot says, it's hardly "unworkable" to pay for drinks through an app. I do that every time I have a cup of coffee. You might object to the idea on principle it is far from unworkable.

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    2. It's unworkable in the sense that it's impossible for every single independent pub to get it up and running in two weeks, and it can only be used by people who have a smartphone.

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    3. name an independent coffee shop that uses an app,let alone one they developed ? those will be the Costa/Caffe Nero/Starbucks apps wont it,whose combined revenues as companies is measured in billions of pounds, not the local coffee shop (or pub) who is run by someone on a literal shoe string and is probably feeling quite lucky they are still even trading by now.

      there are ~60,000 pubs in the UK, we are not going to see even 1% of those (that would still be 600 apps) diverse their trade into app development which for all the fanfare thats made about them is alot harder to get right than people assume, and the UK government have just had some very relatable recent experience of that point.

      In fact Matt Hancocks own app, he got someone else to code it for him, had a glaring privacy and data protection issue when it was first released, asking for way more access to a persons phone than it needed that it could have potentially hoovered data up with, and it had to be fixed.

      Which brings you neatly to pubs are not going to welcome the data protection, and we are still bound by GDPR rules, and privacy issues with documenting customers names and contact details, lists of what they ordered, credit card numbers for periods of weeks or months, maybe even years.

      personally I still think the pubs reopening will be near disastrous for the majority in the trade, it feels like turkeys voting for christmas in alot of cases, as when the numbers dont stack up and those pubs that were borderline surviving before cant make ends meet they will close for good.

      its clearly beginning to get disastrous for some if the current situation continued with some prominent closures too, but I was chatting to someone in a health care role today about what they are going through and dealing with on a daily basis still, and I cant believe based on that we are remotely ready to all getting back in the pubs and having a cheery pint with lots of different people yet, as someone else commented, easing lockdown on pubs doesnt mean this is over, it just means theres more space in the hospital for us when we get it.

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  2. joyless regimented pub crawl? be right up the camras street.

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    1. There's got to be money in organising pub crawls - Mudgie's Stockport Stagger. Restricted to groups of six, you could book each group into a different pub for one hour each. That way each pub will already have everyone's names and email addresses so no need to sign in (you could probably pre-order all your halves of swill dependent on the pub!). Then after exactly one hour you move on to the next pub (to be replaced by the following group!) Everyone gets round the allotted itinerary and you don't have to sit with people you don't like by choosing your group at the start - what could possibly go wrong?

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  3. My wife & I have managed perfectly well over the last 3 months without going to the pub. We still 'go to the pub' on the same days as we have always done - it's just that we sit in the garden - or the conservatory. In effect, we have our own, personal pub with no other customers to annoy us - and our own choice of music too. We haven't smoked for decades but if we still did we could do that too (indoors, if we wanted). We have the obligatory packet of crisps with the first pint and, thanks to the local brewer, we have real ale too, which they deliver to my door.
    If we're going to have to sign in just so that we can sit behind a perspex screen and look at other sad people drinking, I doubt if we'll bother.

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  4. The question has been asked on Twitter how customer registration would fit in with data protection regulations. And, despite reassurances, there must be a concern that the information collected would end up being misused for marketing or non-Covid surveillance purposes.

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    1. "never mistake incompetence for malice". I share the concern, but for me the bigger worry is accidental data leakage than misuse.

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  5. The Telegraph cartoon sums it up nicely, but if it helps to get the pubs open, and throws vital a lifeline to the hospitality sector, then I will comply, despite certain reservations.

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    1. This is not about what I personally will do, but how customers in general are likely to react. And I certainly don't imagine that my custom alone will be make or break for any pub.

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  6. The purpose of the requirement for people to register when visiting a pub appears to be for infection control purposes,registration will not achieve this,virus infections generally have specific sources such as hospitals,wholesale markets and meat packing plants where large numbers of people are gathered together and resources are best used in limiting the potential for outbreaks from these sources and,where outbreaks occur,controlling the spread of infection from them. For many reasons,not least the potential for abuse,poor record keeping and data protection issues registration of pub customers or forcing them into inconvenient methods of payment will not assist in infection control and will threaten the viability of many businesses. Coronavirus is part of life,even countries such as New Zealand,an isolated country with a low population whose government claimed to have eradicated the virus,has experienced reinfection. Pubs and their customers can best play their part in infection control by observing good basic hygiene precautions

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  7. A lot of people have got used to not going to pubs and many may feel it's just not worth the hassle.I am missing a good pint of ale as much as anyone but I won't be queuing outside and then once inside going through some sort of airport security process.I will stick to drinking at home.

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    1. If I can get away with writing "John Galt" in a book I won't be too bothered, tbh. But if you're expected to show official ID then it does become very sinister and controlling.

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  8. We (pub goers) need to accept that its not going to be business as usual on the 4th. However, the best route back to normality is to accept some restrictions and gradually ignore them over time. If, as I predict, there is no appreciable change in infection rate, more people will drift back to the pub. Some people seem desperate to see a second wave so they can start the finger wagging opprobrium again, but when it fails to materialise we'll all be back to normal.

    As an aside though, I'll be far keener to use pubs that don't shove the restrictions in your face. I've started to use independent cafes more for this reason. If any customer is out of order, deal with them. Don't have bouncers yelling and marshalling potential customers before they've even got near the place.

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  9. Professor Pie-Tin23 June 2020 at 11:24

    " Ah, welcome back Mr Drunky McDrunkface, a pint of the usual ? "

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  10. I do not see why I should be required to identify myself or explain my purpose if I just wander into a pub at random.

    "Explain my purpose" is neither here nor there ("to get a drink", presumably), but the reason why you would be required to identify yourself is pretty easy to see, isn't it? Discretionary visit or not, if you later find you were carrying Covid you need to let people you may have infected know.

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    1. That argument would surely mean that every retailer, bus, rail and taxi operator should be recording details? Most offer a similar opportunity for infection transactions to take place.

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    2. Do as you're told, proles! It's for your own good. The innocent have nothing to fear.

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  11. Then there is the question about outdoor smoking ...

    Will it still be allowed, or is this another not-so-accidental design from Tobacco Control?

    I am not the first to have mentioned it. Simon Clark has, too:

    http://taking-liberties.squarespace.com/blog/2020/6/23/smoking-and-pubs.html

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  12. The detailed guidance for pubs and restaurants to open was published overnight, and is certainly not as restrictive as much of the speculation suggested.

    You will be able to order at the bar and pay in cash. But there will be no perpendicular drinking indoors, and music must not be so loud that you can't hear others talk over it. Indoor and soft play areas must remain closed.

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    1. And it is only guidance not law. So it can only be "policed" by the premise owner and his staff and customers. So I suspect pubs will quickly revert to their pre-lock-down selves.
      Except I won't be inside one :-)#

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    2. Having had a good read through it strikes me there is very little in the way of "You must...", with every section headed "Steps that will usually be needed:".

      I'd say "Usually" will be the key to some sort of normality for venues other than those in chains governed by corporate dictat.

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    3. We'll have to see how it goes. If it is patrolled with a light touch, then it will mostly be a case of "there or thereabouts" and pubs will just get on with it as, by and large, shops have done. The main problem I foresee is with pubs being expected to maintain customer registers.

      I'm not going to blog further about this until it has actually happened because at the moment it is all just speculation.

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  13. It is tricky, isn't it? One wants pubs to be open to go to, but really we want them as they were. I suspect that the kind of pub I go to, won't by and large adhere too much of the stuff suggested, but instead use common sense. That will throw the responsibility and risk back on the customer, where many will see that as the correct place. It may or may not be chancy, but up to you to decide based on how you see it operating when you get there.

    I fear though as Man Beach says above, many will stop at home until they see or hear how it is panning out. Some might just stay there permanently.

    I remain unconvinced by the scoffing Big Brother theory of "innocent have nothing to fear", implying they have.In this case where there is no mandatory system, they most certainly have nothing to fear from it and no, it isn't a thin end of the edge scenario.

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    1. I'm aware it is something that seems relatively trivial, and it is justified by a worthy reason, but I am accustomed to going through my life without having to constantly declare my identity, and it sticks in the craw to be expected to do it for something so mundane as going for a swift half in a pub.

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  14. I am not using an app to order and pay for beer (yes I do have a smart phone). The only app I'm interested in is the little note book of the server who takes my order and brings the remote thingy (card reader) for me to pay by card unless I can have a tab like I used to have. Prebooking a table is OK if necessary but a bit of a balls ache if the idea of going out is spontaneous. I know that Wetherspoons have an app but these are city centre pubs and my local, with a massive beer garden, is walking distance. No contest.

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  15. Peter. Your blog is mainly questions and complaints and doesn't have many answers. This is not a criticism of you, much less trolling, because asking questions is the route to knowledge.
    But, for interest, what would you do and allow at this point in the pandemic.

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  16. Professor Pie-Tin2 July 2020 at 12:52

    Well it didn't take long for pubs in Ireland to start ignoring the " strict " guidelines on drinkers having to purchase a €9 meal with their pint.
    I know of one local where it lasted all of one day.
    Another has a cunning wheeze whereby you purchase the grub so you have a till receipt and then drink away util it's time to go home when you get given your meal as a takeaway.
    Then there's these lads ...
    www.corkbeo.ie/news/local-news/pubs-serving-pints-no-food-18526728

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