Support needed for pubs to survive a soft reopening

By Ed Bedington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Coronavirus

Pubs and the wider hospitality industry will continue to need financial support if they are allowed to reopen with social distancing, according to one industry supplier.

Wireless Social CEO Julian Ross said the Government needs to outline a strategy to let operators facing the problems of social distancing know there is support.

He said some areas of hospitality: quick-serve, coffee shops and hotels, for example, will be able to return more quickly to a sense of normality.

However, he added: “For pubs and bars, and more sociable venues, even if they’re allowed to open, many will take the decision not to, to be honest.

“Pubs and bars are all about socialising. If they do open with social distancing, as soon as people have a few beers inside them then that social distancing will go out the window, people need to be mindful of that.

“I know with restaurants, people have been looking at venues and putting screens up, but it just looks horrible. I can’t imagine sitting there with one other person at a table with people two metres away in every direction. My chairman Clive [Consterdine] referred to it as it will be like an exam hall, with people whispering... it doesn’t feel like it will work to me.”

Two stools

He said operators faced with opening up but only able to access a tiny proportion of revenue would be caught between two stools.

Ross added the Government needed to let operators know that if they do choose not to open, there will still be support available.

“For those that do, there needs to be a means test assessor. They could refer to VAT returns and look at turnover compared to last year and give them support in relation to that.”

Meanwhile, Ross said while the focus has been on supporting pubs and bars, it was easy to forget the wider supply industry that had also been impacted by the lockdown.

“I’m not going to start a sob story,” he said. “For any supplier to the trade, we’ve been hit as hard as the operators.

"We took a decision quite early on to extend all contracts for the period when sites are closed, and not send out any invoices. So, like operators, we’re on zero revenue.”

He said the furlough scheme had been a huge support and was helping in the short term. However, he said that his biggest worry would be that soft opening dilemma. “If sites start to open in June or July, there’s so much of an unknown quantity about that – I don’t know how many operators can survive on 20 to 30% revenue, it will be very few.

“That means with no revenue coming in, the knock-on to suppliers is going to be enormous, so the Government has a really difficult job on its hands.”

Wireless support

Despite this scenario, in a bid to help support its customers, Wireless Social is putting out some support material to help operators get the most out of the systems they already have, to maximise opportunities with minimum effort. It is also putting together a Covid-19 report.

Ross said: “We’re currently finalising that – this will offer operators an opportunity to benefit from powerful guest behavioural information to help them to identify the changes in guest behaviour, cut multiple ways, including age, gender, hospitality sub-sector, geographical territory.

“The report will indicate to operators how close footfall levels are towards returning to pre-Covid-19 levels, which will help them to decide when to open sites.”

The tech company is also partnering with operators and brands, launching a re-emergence campaign, which he said was getting great traction.

He added: “We’re offering people the tech to offer free drinks vouchers in-venue. It’s completely free for operators and will drive their customers back in post-lockdown, while the brands will benefit from their drink being consumed first when guests reappear.”

Related topics: Technology, UnitedWeStand

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