Pubs in England have now been able to open for nine weeks, and during August the food-serving ones at least were buoyed by the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme. However, they have had to operate under a set of restrictions intended to curb the spread of coronavirus, reducing capacity due to the need for social distancing and imposing other requirements such as recording customer details and maintaining a heightened cleaning regime.
Licensees were given little notice of what was expected and had to improvise a system to deal with this at short notice. To be fair, most seem to have made a reasonable fist of it, coming up with something that meets the spirit of the guidelines while not making customers feel unwelcome. However, in some it seems to have unleashed their inner jobsworth, with restrictions being imposed that go well beyond what the guidelines imply, or are very poorly thought out, and which can have the effect of being very offputting to customers. As Victoria Bischoff wrote this week in the Daily Mail:
But some staff have taken to acting like self-appointed prison guards, barking orders at customers as though they are virus-ridden inconveniences. I’m sure they think they are helping to keep everyone safe. But if people are made to feel nervous and unwelcome, they’ll soon trade expensive rounds (£13.90 for a pint of Neck Oil and an Aperol Spritz in our local!) for a far cheaper glass of wine at homeAs both I and other commenters have observed in the past, all too often pubs give the impression of having a sense of entitlement that the world owes them a living. Particularly after lockdown, they seem to assume that customers will be grateful they are open at all and will put up with all kinds of indignities. It’s on things like this where pubs benefit from being part of a large group so that someone in head office can look into it and come up with a coherent system rather than expecting everyone to make it up as they go along.
While I haven’t been in any other chain pubs, in general Wetherspoon’s seem to have made a pretty good job of it, actually improving the ambiance of their pubs by spacing out the tables and introducing partitions, and achieving the requirements of the guidelines without being too intrusive. But they still seem to struggle with organising queues at long bar counters that weren’t designed for it.
Some of the policies pubs have introduced arise simply out a lack of thought, but others clearly come across as deliberate. If you’ve decided to do away with beermats and ditch the charity boxes on the bar, if you’ve stopped taking cash payments and make everyone download an app to order, if you’re insisting on people making an advance booking just to have a drink, if you’ve festooned your pub with yellow tape and half-baked one-way systems, it’s not because the guidelines expect it, because they don’t. It’s because, deep down, you want to. And customers will remember where they were welcomed, and where they were treated like something the cat dragged in.
The systems most pubs have implemented to record customer details leave much to be desired. It wasn’t long before instances of systems being abused and the information collected being used to harass customers started to emerge. Any procedure that expects people to write down their details on a register that can be viewed by all and sundry obviously does not pass muster.
Indeed, very few of the systems I’ve seen meet the twin objectives of complying with GDPR (which is law, not just guidelines) and being accessible to people without smartphones. Again, the best I’ve seen is that operated by Wetherspoon’s, where you have the choice of either scanning a QR code or writing the information down on a slip that is then put into a box where nobody else can see what is on it.