It’s something I’ve never dreamt of, let alone encountered even on a minute scale, and I can say with certainty, like others, that we are all getting through this one step at a time.
The 68 days since Boris imploded our industry and told the public not to visit bars and pubs feels like a lifetime ago, with little respite. There’s now the finest of lines between some operators making it and not making it. One more roadblock could spell the end for many, especially the smaller independents.
Yet, if we can take one positive from this saga, it’s that I’ve seen the sector and those who feed into it come together like never before. Of course, we’ve seen pockets of this community spirit previously, mostly on a local level – like we saw here in Manchester after the arena bombing, three years ago today (22 May) – but to feel ‘togetherness’ on a national, and even international scale, is something we must all be proud of and I hope this continues as we come out the other side (which we will).
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. This week has brought with it some glimmer of hope. While I have concerns that the 4 July may not be the ‘Independence Day’ we all crave in the sector (I have a strong fear this could be pushed back in yet another blow), at least we are now talking about ‘the other side’, rather than ignoring it altogether, something we saw too much of last month.
We’re starting to dip into, and talk about, solutions. I’ve seen pubs start to refresh their outdoor seating areas, and others look into how they can start to provide this. I’ve had chats with bars trying to work out how to provide table service as opposed to bar service to prevent close contact, and I’ve seen others start to financially plan for reduced capacities.
One operator in particular has really impressed me through this crisis. BrewDog, often scolded as the naughty kid in the corner, has come into its own in the past two months and I’ve seen this again this week.
Not content with being one of the first breweries to switch production to hand sanitiser for the NHS (something it’s now rolling out on a permanent basis), it’s now launched its ‘manifesto’ for the future of its bars, outlining changes the chain will implement through its global outlets once they are allowed to reopen.
The changes consist of a mix of perspex screens, reduced furniture for social distancing, capacity monitoring, cashless service only, and displaying its innovation – its own app to order beer from your table.
It’s these kinds of forward-thinking changes that will define our sector in the months and years to come. Those who are open and embracing the changes we will have to make will come through this, and I have no doubt, succeed.
But of course, BrewDog has multimillion-pound backing, something the independents don’t have, and it’s this aspect that we need to home in on. How can we, as a sector, bring everyone with us on this journey into the new world?
We need to think of ways the local community pub at the end of the street, the small 25-person basement bar, and the student nightclub can implement easily and affordably. It’s these operators that are hit the hardest and tiptoeing on that line between living and failing.
Not only will this come down to funding and continuous financial aid from the Government until the sector has recovered, but perhaps even more importantly, once Independence Day hits and we’re all charging forward, we will need ‘togetherness’ to help pull those below us back up onto their feet.
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