Kris Gumbrell, CEO of the Brewhouse & Kitchen chain of brewpubs, said consumer behaviour was going to be key to the recovery and he praised campaigning operator Jonathan Downey’s suggestion of changing the language around the situation from “social distancing” to “physical distancing”.
“We learnt a valuable lesson on 16 March when the Government advised people not to visit.
"We saw our business completely free fall. We were considering closing anyway, we just wanted to calm the team down before we did and we closed ahead of 20 March.
“What we need to learn from that is that the consumer doesn’t need much encouragement to take the decision for themselves and we’re going to see new consumer behaviour emerge from this.
“What’s important is that we obviously show leadership and are seen to do and say the right things. Whatever we did going into this crisis will be held against us as we emerge from it.”
He said consumers were going to be anxious when the lockdown was lifted, and while some will be praying for a return to the pub, there was still going to be anxiety and fear and some people will continue to shield.
But he said it was going to be a delicate balance and called for politicians and the media to work with the trade: “We don’t want to be told on one hand we can reopen and, on the other hand, consumers told to still maintain social distancing.”
Gumbrell admitted optimism had taken a battering: “We’re all hoping for hope, and there isn’t much hope right now, but there are things happening in the background and I can see a huge, huge change in confidence and behaviour when there is some kind of breakthrough.
“High volume, low margin businesses will have to change. We’re not in that kind of operating model so, for us, there’s opportunity. We’re very experience-driven and we’ll be taking that online soon. There’s always going to be challenges and opportunities.”
He said a key opportunity would be around how businesses are funded: “I can see opportunities out there if we’re creative around how capital moves around our sector, and it’s a no-brainer for the Treasury to be creative around the rules.”
There are opportunities around Enterprise Investment Schemes for communities to acquire and invest in community pubs he added.
He added: “One thing to come out of this crisis is a stronger sense of community. We’re seeing it in our pubs and the street I live in. Things will change, we need the free flow of capital back into our sector, debt is a good solution, but it’s not the only solution and there will be some opportunity, there always is. There will be some out there, but it’s tough.”