When the new restrictions on how pubs could operate were imposed in the middle of September, many people expressed the view that their combined effect would largely destroy the spontaneous pleasure of just popping into the pub.
This theme has been echoed in an excellent article in Retail Insider by Glynn Davis entitled Extra restrictions kill the swift pint option…
I like turning up when I want, meander about, catching up with those I know, saying hi to bar staff, point at tv footy, chat shit at the bar, sometimes making new acquaintances as a consequence, sitting at whichever table happens to be available and be spontaneous. All gone now.— Sir Quinno (@SirQuinno) September 24, 2020
I had said the same a few days before that, while the pubs are mostly still open, the experience just isn’t the same. I’ve always found the fact that nobody questions what you’re doing in a pub, or really cares, to be a major attraction.
Many times over the past couple of weeks at the end of the day I’ve thought about popping out to the pub for a quick pint while I read the paper. But I’ve then changed my mind and instead cracked open a can of beer or poured a glass of wine at home. Once lock-down ended, I reckon I was more excited than the majority of people at the ability to again simply go for a drink in a convivial atmosphere that wasn’t my own garden or house. But what has transpired has not been particularly appealing because of the growing number of steps you have to go through before you get to the point of having a glass in your hand...
...But when you then throw in the 10pm curfew, the situation becomes dire for businesses and customers. After its introduction, like-for-like sales fell 21.2% compared with the week before it was brought in. With this, food fell 19.1% while drinks declined 23.2%, according to S4labour. I’m clearly not alone in finding the creep of extra restrictions limiting the appetite for socialising. According to a CGA Consumer Pulse Survey conducted on 22 September, two in five (40%) of people stated they would go out less often as a result of the measures. This compares with a much more modest 14% who intend to go out more often.
And another Twitter commenter said much the same in response to Glynn Davis’ article.
Once upon a time, you could walk into a pub, get served at the bar, and sit anywhere you like. Nobody would ask who you were, or what you were doing there. Track and trace and table service has destroyed all that. For me, it has basically destroyed the pleasure of pubgoing.— Pub Curmudgeon 🍻 (@oldmudgie) October 7, 2020
It’s not one single thing, but the cumulative effect of the several different measures put together. As Tim Martin of Wetherspoon’s said, customers “find it too much of a faff.” Previously, it didn’t seem too onerous to give your name and phone number to a member of staff, or write them on a slip of paper, but expecting people to check in using the NHS app adds another layer of formality, and anyone unable to use it is marked out as a little odd. Plus, many people seem to have difficulty connecting with it, leading to queues developing on entry.
How true. I'm a 'nipping in for a swift half' type. A bit of a natter with the staff, a few crossword clues, a beer, often new to me, to appreciate - and then a walk to the next watering hole. Now there's likely to be a notice saying Welcome - with a picture of a mask on it.— Sligfo (@sligfo) October 15, 2020
The queues are exacerbated by table service, which means that everybody has to be allocated to a table before taking a seat. And then there can be a long wait to actually get someone to serve you. A ten or fifteen minute wait makes that swift pint not so swift, and as for asking for a refill...
While many people have become inured to wearing masks, it still seems a ludicrous charade to be expected to put one on for a minute or two when entering a pub or going to the toilet, and this must represent a significant psychological deterrent. And, if you have a medical exemption, you will need to steel yourself for a potential confrontation with officious door staff, and run the risk of barracking from other customers when going to the toilet.
While I’m not personally too concerned about the 10 pm curfew, I know for many people a couple of sociable pints towards the end of the evening is their favoured regular routine.
The pubs themselves are not to blame for this, as it’s something that has been imposed on them from above, although it has to be said that some don’t exactly help themselves in their approach to implementing the regulations. If people have a compelling reason to go to the pub, then they may still be willing to jump through the hoops, although of course now across large swathes of the country you can’t even meet up with anyone outside your own household. But that swift pint on spec – forget it. Plus the arbitrary restrictions over and above the official regulations which I referred to in the post linked above make going to any pubs beyond your regular haunts a complete lottery as you have no idea what kind of welcome you will receive.
It’s all very well saying that people should support pubs, but if the experience has been turned from something pleasurable to a grim rigmarole it becomes increasingly hard to see the attraction. And most ordinary people go to pubs because they enjoy it, not out of a sense of duty.
I recognise that not everyone will see things in the same way, but it’s a common fallacy to believe that your own perceptions are representative of the whole, and from what I’ve seen on social media there are plenty of previously regular pubgoers whose reaction has been the same.