Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Time is called

I’m conscious that this blog has turned into a running commentary on the government’s Covid policy, but given the way it has dominated the news agenda and the profound effect it has had on the pub trade it is impossible to avoid or downplay the subject. Back in July, there were hopes that things would start to slowly improve and return to normal but, especially following yesterday’s announcement of draconian new restrictions, we now seem to be descending ever deeper into a dystopian nightmare.

Some people in the industry have tried to put a brave face on the new measures, but it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that they will lead to severe damage. The 10 pm curfew is the time by which all customers must leave, not last orders, meaning that even a pub nominally closing at 11 will lose 90 minutes’ trade, one closing at midnight or later considerably more. Some have talked about it increasing speed drinking, but I suspect the reality is that many customers simply won’t bother coming out at all. People can’t simply come out earlier if they have other things to do first.

For many restaurants, it won’t be just a case of losing a hour’s trade, but of losing one of two sittings during the evening, and thus half their entire business. And one well-known Manchester pub has already announced that they don’t see that it will be worth trading at all while the curfew is in force. From a personal point of view, it will scarcely affect me, as I’m very rarely in pubs in the late evening, but I recognise that for many pubs, especially urban wet-led locals, that’s when they do a major part of their business.

Then there is the requirement for pub customers to wear masks at all times except when seated. I have already discussed this in depth in the context of Scotland, so I don’t propose to go over all of that again. But I have made the point before that what people may grudgingly put up with when doing something essential like grocery shopping may not be so welcome when taking part in what is supposed to be a relaxing leisure activity. This is certainly the experience of one pub landlady.

It is also the case that pubs are likely to be expected to enforce the mask rule, even though in practice it is impossible to do. In general, shops have not made any attempt to do this, taking the view that it is not their job to enforce. Under the 2010 Equalities Act, it is illegal to inquire as to the nature of someone’s disability or medical condition or to refuse them service on those grounds. As someone who works in the retail trade says “Where I work, we're told not to confront people who come into the shop without a mask. We have to assume they have a hidden disability, which we can't ask about either.”

But there will be a public expectation for pubs to do it, even though it is a legal minefield. “Look at that pub letting all those people in without masks”. And, to be honest, some people with no valid grounds for exemption will inevitably try it on. If someone states they are exempt, there is nothing a pub can do. This may well lead to an unwelcoming atmosphere for people who do have genuine exemptions, and the possibility of harassment from other customers.

It’s also going to be well-nigh impossible for pubs to make customers don masks to go to the toilet or outside for a smoke, especially once they’ve had a few drinks. But pubs will inevitably be blamed if they don’t. The whole thing is going to cause huge difficulties and put licensees in a very awkward situation.

A further problem is the restriction of all licensed premises to table service only. Yes, some have pointed out that this is general practice on the Continent, and that some bars are successfully doing it already, both of which are true. However, British pubs are simply not set up to operate this way, either in their layout or their working procedures, and it will take some time to adjust, retrain staff and devise new ways of operating. It seems to have been dreamed up by people who never visit pubs and have no idea how they actually function.

It is also by definition more labour-intensive, as multiple trips to the service point now have to be done by staff rather than customers. This is why, on the Continent, the gap between bar and off-trade prices is generally much higher than in this country, despite the lower rates of duty. Yet financially hard-pressed pubs will be in no position to take on additional staff, although in practice the sheer lack of customers may mean this isn’t a problem.

It will also raise the perennial issue of how to actually attract the attention of waiting staff if you want a refill. In the past, many pubs had waiter service on the lounge side, and push-button bells around the walls to summon a server, but these have largely disappeared now, and even where they still exist they are no longer functional. I have written several times before on here of the often lamentable standard of restaurant service in this country, and I wouldn’t hold out much hope of it being any better in pubs with limited numbers of poorly trained staff. If you’re in a location distant from the bar, or in a beer garden, you may have a long wait to attract anyone’s attention.

I wrote last week about how winter is coming for the pub trade, and following this announcement it sadly looks as though it may well turn out to be a nuclear winter.

36 comments:

  1. Another unfortunate knee-jerk reaction, from a government spurred on by the main stream media, who are only interested in negative headlines. Ill thought out, inappropriate and totally unnecessary for many of our pubs.

    I’m mulling over whether to write a piece of my own, but the whole scenario is too depressing for words.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They really haven't remotely appreciated just how devastating this will all be.

      Delete
  2. FWIW, in Wales the 10pm cutoff is explicitly 'last orders', and the FM has clearly stated that he sees 'drinking up time' beyond that - specifically to allow food venues to keep that second sitting.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thinking out loud, I would love to see some coordinated effort by the industry to send a message to The Government. Maybe a day of strike action and claim furlough for the wages lost by their staff. Closing all the pubs for one day might focus the mind - as if the restrictions continue then 90% will be closed permanently.

    I for one will be avoiding pubs and restaurants despite being a regular up until yesterday. I don't want to wear a mask and I don't want to see others doing so either. I might break my resolve if invited, but I certainly won't be making a special effort to arrange any visits.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The new regulations seem to have little to do with health, it looks rather like we are being eased towards a second lockdown or the renamed “circuit-break”. The new regulations are not radical from a pandemic handling perspective and sure to fail, giving HMG the chance to evade responsibility for what follows. Of course what follows is the second lockdown and when that follows the same cycle, a third lockdown and even a fourth. So how long before the inevitable decision is made to treat it like all other deadly diseases?

    ReplyDelete
  5. "So how long before the inevitable decision is made to treat it like all other deadly diseases?"

    That would be far too sensible for HMG, and would mean them having to drop their obsessive desire to control and micro-manage the UK population.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Be careful what you wish for. The usual method of dealing with deadly diseases such as cholera or Ebola is to completely isolate the victim until they day or cease to be infectious.

      Delete
    2. Ebola is both much more deadly and much harder to transmit than Covid, so the argument for isolation is far stronger.

      Delete
  6. just print out a government exemption card and enjoy your pub muzzle-free https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/903454/Exemption_from_face_covering_card_to_print.pdf

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But the question is whether pubs will just happily accept that.

      Delete
  7. Tuesday was perhaps the single most depressing day of my life. As a scientist by training (BSc in Chemistry in case anyone wants to know!) I despair at the lack of credible data to back up most of the government's recent pronouncements!
    There is no evidence that 10pm will be better than 11pm for closing pubs and restaurants! (Only 5% of infections were apparently being generated in those environments!)
    There is no evidence that face coverings actually work (see this article for an interesting study of masks in operating theatres - https://www.thetruthbarrier.com/2020/08/12/arthur-firstenbergs-findings-about-masks-probing-the-microbial-cosmos-invoking-the-work-of-lynn-margulis/ )
    You're quite correct about us living in a dystopian nightmare - in "1984" there is always a war on that must be fought and it is looking like the 'war' against coronavirus will also never end as it is likely that any vaccine will only give temporary immunity and the government don't really seem to care about the economy so are unlikely to withdraw their dictatorial grip on power over us anytime soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As a fellow scientist, I agree 100% Pete. Cooking Lager sums up the current situation well, in his comments below!

      Delete
  8. 3 weeks to save the NHS!
    6 months later........
    We are exactly where we started but with about a third of the economy gone.
    6 months to go before....
    We are exactly where we started but with more of the economy gone and no pubs.

    Doers somebody want to mention Sweden?

    ReplyDelete
  9. It's certainly illegal, under the 2010 *Equality* Act, to refuse somebody service on the grounds of their disability. Is it "illegal to inquire as to the nature of someone’s disability or medical condition"? Which bit of the legislation is this in?

    Cookie - Sweden's record may be slightly better than ours (presumably because the population is more spread out geographically and more likely to follow government instructions), but it looks pretty awful by comparison with Norway, Finland and Denmark. The UK's got the worst of both worlds.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Data Protection Act 1998 states that an individual is under no obligation to divulge their private medical issues.

      Delete
    2. The 1998 was superseded in 2018 by the General Data Protection Regulations. But since the GDPR seem to be more restrictive than previous legislation I wouldn't be surprised if it contains the same provision

      Delete
    3. I think that's a red herring. Data protection legislation - including the GDPR - applies to the collection of data about identifiable individuals. "Good evening, Sir, have you got a health condition which means you can't wear a mask?" might seem a bit nosey, but it doesn't engage any data protection laws.

      Delete
    4. By declaration yourself exempt, you are obviously stating that you have *a* health condition. But requiring people to disclose the nature of that condition is surely an invasion of privacy. And an unqualified security person is in no position to judge anyway. You could reply "Baumol's disease" and they would be none the wiser.

      Delete
  10. The interesting thing is that there is strong public support for tougher measures.
    And unpopular as it may seem on here I have a great deal of sympathy for Boris.There is little point in having a Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser if you're not prepared to listen to their advice.
    I have no doubt the PM's brush with death is weighing heavy on his mind as he tries to strike a balance between the total lockdown that the boffins seem to want and his desire to stop the economy from tanking even more.
    It would take a brave politician to go against his scientific advisers and then be held responsible for even one person dying as a result.
    If a 10pm closure, social distancing and wearing a mask is the price to pay for keeping the pubs open then it seems a small one to me.
    And I speak as a serious piss-head who has just returned to Ireland and straight into quarantine for a fortnight on the day after wet pubs opened for the first time since March.
    Mind you here's my prediction - they'be be closed again before I'm officially allowed in one for a drink.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. people support tougher measures, sure, but the coming depression will change minds.

      Delete
    2. Even with Cookienomics, there's a limit to how long you can keep businesses afloat that are unable to trade profitably.

      Delete
    3. The Stafford Mudgie27 September 2020 at 17:45

      Cookie,
      Yes,"people support tougher measures" for everyone else, and then disregard any that they themselves find too much of an inconvenience.


      Delete
  11. Lots of sense being spoken here, lots of ineptitude from HMG, but that's to be expected. The only thing I'd question here is cookie's observation on Sweden, where I suspect none of us are in a position to say if it would work or not. What is certain to be is that these measures will almost certainly put pubs further up shit creek, and almost certainly will make 3/5 of f**k all difference to covid rates. I've used a lot of pubs since re-opening, and there have only been 1 or 2 that have felt a little unsafe.

    Even given this government's peerless achievements in ineptitude, this really is quite remarkable. Even if pubs were a huge infection source, which they are not, why would 1 hour improve matters? The broken logic, I presume, is that drunker people do stupider things. That's a reasonable assumption, but to assume that closing at 10pm rather than later will mean less drunken customers is very wrong.

    Does anyone else remember that the easing of opening hours in the late 80s were meant to make things worse, but in actual fact, make closing time easier, because there wasn't the rush? My own experience of local pubs is that if I'm in there with a mate at 1am, we'll be the last customers, everyone else having drifted of gradually.

    Ever heard of the Six O'clock Swill?

    As others have said, there's a whole load of other problems too. Not having table service is one of my favourite features of a pub, as opposed to the usual in a bar abroad, where you can end up waiting without a drink at busy times, just for one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I said, my expectation is that in general the 10 pm closing will lead to a general slackening off of trade rather than a concentrated rush towards the end. In any case, table service will restrict the amount of drinks that can be purchased quickly, although it's possible there may be some doubling up as last orders approaches.

      I have to say if I was going in a pub and expecting to drink two pints, I'd probably order them both at once so I knew I wouldn't have to wait later on, especially as I tend to be Unlucky Alf when it comes to attracting the attention of waiting staff.

      Delete
    2. I could give you a few tips. For some reason, bar staff never have trouble noticing me.

      Delete
    3. However bright your shirt, it makes no difference if you're in a spot where they can't see you. And inattentive staff can ignore finished plates right in front of their eyes for hours.

      Delete
    4. I generally order two or three drinks at once for the same reason. For a country that has reestablished its economy on service industry rather than manufacturing industry we are lousy at service. And that is not just pubs.
      Yes, I know that good service costs money but it would be nice to have the choice of paying more for better service rather than been dragged into a race to the bottom

      Delete
  12. Dear Curmudgeon

    Who knew that the coronavirus was nocturnal?

    "From the towns all Inns have been driven: from the villages most.... Change your hearts or you will lose your Inns and you will deserve to have lost them. But when you have lost your Inns drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England."

    HILAIRE BELLOC, This and That

    Here richly, with ridiculous display,
    The Politician's corpse was laid away.
    While all of his acquaintance sneered and slanged
    I wept: for I had longed to see him hanged.

    HILAIRE BELLOC, "Epitaph on the Politician Himself"

    DP

    ReplyDelete
  13. The proper lols are on those who thought kyboshing supermarkets would save pubs.
    No one guessed the chinese were developing the pub killing rona in a lab and that would be end

    ReplyDelete
  14. It's life Jim but not as we know it.
    http://cf.broadsheet.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/jimcostello.jpg

    ReplyDelete
  15. I have been keeping a diary of the pub this year. Here's part of the entry for last Tuesday:

    Up until now I was rolling with the punches of the new regulations, jumping through the hoops and ticking the boxes with no complaints. Today’s government announcement put a stop to my enthusiasm. The new rules are:

    1. Close at 10pm. Okay, no problem, we stop serving at 10pm now anyway, we’ll just make it 9.30pm to give some drinking up time.

    2. Staff must wear masks at all times. Not a problem. Makes it harder to communicate with people when trying to enforce ever-changing rules, but we will get by.

    3. Customers must wear masks unless seated at a table. Wait, what? So people have to put a mask on at the door to walk a few yards to their table, and then remember to put it on again if they go to the toilet? And I have to enforce this or I get fined. It’s not guidance anymore, it’s the law, apparently.

    4. It’s table service only. This will be a real pain with only one member of staff, and we can’t afford to have two on at once. If there is anyone with Coronavirus, table service will help spread it through cross contamination. Instead of people coming to the bar - where we have a screen - one at a time then going back to their table, I will be going from table to table constantly taking orders, ferrying drinks and taking payments. Those pubs who have put in ingenious one way systems with collection points and screens because that’s what their risk assessment concluded was safest will have to re-think and implement a new system. In two days.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. AIUI you're not actually under any legal obligation to enforce the mask law. After all, shops in general don't. Also it's well-nigh impossible to do if there's just one member of staff. However, the licensing authorities might take a dim of view of it.

      I'd suggest to cover yourself the thing to do is:

      "Excuse me, Sir, do you have a mask?"

      "No, I'm exempt."

      "OK, let's find you a table, then."

      And the government's own guidelines say that if people state they are exempt, you have to take it at face value.

      Delete
    2. Yes I gather that is the case. I've since told staff not to bother asking at all. The sign on the door is enough: 'Please come in and find a table. We will come and take your order. Please wear a mask when not seated'.

      It feels like publicans are being scapegoated. They give us un-enforcable rules and we'll get the blame when we can't enforce them. My only comfort is we are not the only ones being mugged off by this shower.

      Delete
    3. Trade is down by half since the new rules came in. That's half of what it was since we re-opened, which is roughly half of what it was this time last year. The new job retention scheme won't affect whether we make redundancies. It's been a real downer of a week, but I'm trying to stay positive. Soon be christmas!

      Delete
    4. As I said in the post, there will be a public expectation for pubs to enforce the mask law, even though they have no legal power or obligation to do so. So pubs have to adopt a "cover your arse" strategy. It wouldn't surprise me if there are Covid Stasi skulking in pubs to watch if people are going to the toilet without a mask.

      Delete
  16. On Tyneside and Wearside we had the bombshell dropped last night that legally prohibits more more than one household socialising together in hospitality, from midnight tonight. Having not long been saddled with 10pm closing as part of localised restrictions, this will likely be the final nail in the coffin for many pubs and restaurants in the region. Some - including the Bass stalwart Tynemouth Lodge - are shutting up shop temporarily and hoping that the restriction will be lifted before the furlough scheme ends. Here's hoping.

    ReplyDelete

Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. To combat persistent trolling, unregistered comments are liable to be deleted unless I recognise the author. If you intend to make more than the occasional comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.