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 ;-)
POLL: Would being expected to order via an app significantly deter you from going to the pub for a drink?— Curmudgeon (@oldmudgie) June 21, 2020
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.
I look forward to the Sam Smith's app https://t.co/zuWqbTHEpJ— Curmudgeon (@oldmudgie) June 20, 2020
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: