How could post-lockdown distancing rules change the layout of pubs?

By Stuart Stone contact

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Customer reassurance: 'If a pub can be set out so that a member of staff is visible from the entrance it gives that extra bit of reassurance and a friendly face,' Jones Architecture & Design’s Abi Perry-Jones says
Customer reassurance: 'If a pub can be set out so that a member of staff is visible from the entrance it gives that extra bit of reassurance and a friendly face,' Jones Architecture & Design’s Abi Perry-Jones says

Related tags: Property, Hotel, Public house, Restaurant

The Morning Advertiser (MA) spoke to Jones Architecture & Design’s creative director Abi Perry-Jones to run the rule over post-lockdown pub blueprints before trading resumes under social distancing.

Further reading on pub layouts and social distancing

Social distancing
Inception Group

Since the Government announced a number of the UK’s pub and bars could resume trade from 4 July onwards, operators have outlined an eclectic range of design approaches to in-venue social distancing.

While operators such as Oakman Inns and Greene King have opted for the simple yet effective step of separating customers using screens​, others – such as Inception Group – have dreamt up more “playful” distancing measures​ in the hope of seamlessly keeping staff and customers at a state sanctioned distance.

What’s more, speaking to MA​, Liberation Group’s Jayson Perfect explained his team’s desire for a longer term approach,​ stating: “I don’t just want to put big Perspex screens up everywhere to make people feel like they’re sitting in goldfish bowls, I want distancing measures that we can use”.

Amid a range of different approaches, and with operators no doubt in the final weeks of preparation for the resumption of trade, MA​ and Jones Architecture & Design’s creative director Abi Perry-Jones discussed the building blocks for post-lockdown pubs.

Careful layout planning

"Obviously there needs to be a really clear understanding of how the building is used for the customer before they even enter,” Perry-Jones tells MA​. “Clear signage outside is going to be really important. 

“It just needs to be really carefully planned - the flow and the routes through to avoid clashes, the routes to the loos, for customers and staff. There are definitely going to be design and building implications for the layout of the kitchen and potentially the bar as well just to make space safe. 

“We need to avoid bottlenecks but if it was really clearly planned and set out at the entrance, that's going to help any sort of confusion that could happen once people are inside the building."

Staff visibility

Perry-Jones adds the visibility of staff and their ability to maintain some form of (state sanctioned) “meet and greet” remains important in socially distanced pubs post-lockdown and should feed into pub design when trade resumes. 

"That meet and greet from the staff is always brilliant. When you walk into the pub and can see the member of staff behind the bar – if people are wearing masks potentially and there's a screen around the bar you just don't have that kind of friendly welcome. 

"In terms of layout, there's a need for clear wayfinding, but if a pub can be set out so a member of staff is visible from the entrance, it gives that extra bit of reassurance and a friendly face.”

Try to avoid ‘clinical’ solutions 


Despite pubs being mandated to resume trade at a distance, Perry-Jones argues that this shouldn’t force operators to surrender their venue’s character and that, rather than immediately plumping for “a load of Perspex that gets chucked in a skip in a few months’ time”, operators could opt for more aesthetically pleasing, long term, options. 

"It's going to be a really big ask to draw people back into pubs and bars and for them to feel really confident,” she explains.

"Of course, everyone can set tables out and put screens out and all these sorts of things, but if it's a really clinical experience, doesn't have any character and isn't on brand, I just don't think it's potentially going to be enough to persuade people to come back again.”

Multi-use furniture 

However, given the majority of pubs will likely opt for screens or more cost-effective social distancing solutions, Perry-Jones ponders whether these can perform multiple functions for operators to increase venue efficiencies.

“It could be that if we're going to use screens, we consider what we do with them and maybe incorporate planting or some artwork - or maybe they double up as condiment stations,” she says. 

“They could be carefully considered and quite innovative.”

Bookable private spaces 


Focusing on longer term options when making final pub design tweaks, Perry-Jones adds that social distancing measures offer publicans the opportunity to consider bookable private areas as an extra revenue stream.

"It might be that now's the time to stand back and think about extra revenue streams that can help later on - like a semi-private space that could be used for functions, meetings or be bookable,” she says. 

“It's great to think about the future as part of this, not just throw a load of temporary measures in that may or may not convince the public that this is a place they want to be.”

Local touches 

On top of this, Perry-Jones adds while planting and natural materials in pubs are “on trend” and can be used as part of displays to separate distanced tables, she explains the increased focus on community during lockdown could rub off on pub design. 

This could, she says, lead to pub interior design that’s more sympathetic to local areas and communities.

“The values of localism, maybe the environment, and more kind, caring attitudes will certainly be spilling through into interiors and design,” she says.

How can pub operators keep both staff and customers protected?

High Speed

“The most noticeable change will be the measures needed to ensure a level of social distancing,” Sarah Taylor, content author at High Speed Training, explains. “This could include changing the layout of pubs and limiting the number of guests per table, section or hour, to providing outdoor seating and investing in technology that allows guests to order drinks without interacting with staff.  

“All of these solutions are imperfect and have shortcomings, for instance fewer seats might result in a business being less commercially viable, which may consequently affect the number of staff employed. Despite discussions taking place regarding a one-meter, rather than two-meter rule, pub owners should prepare for the latter to keep everyone as safe as possible. 

“In some instances, social distancing is simply not possible and business owners should therefore complete comprehensive risk assessments to see what alternative control measures may be suitable. This could include waiting staff and chefs wearing PPE; hand sanitiser stations installed throughout the premises; rigorous cleaning schedules put in place; one-way flow systems implemented; and mandatory health checks for staff carried out.”

Remote working 


Another lockdown trend that Perry-Jones believes pub operators can cater for the huge number of people working remotely amid office closures and social distancing measures who after months of lockdown are likely to be sick of staring at the same four home office walls every day.

“As more people work from home, more people will get to the point where they get a bit bored,” she explains. “It's great to have spaces where people can meet up and have an informal meeting but not go into town or cities or big office spaces. 

“If semi-private spaces could double up for that or even a cosy corner with a USB and a power-point so people can sit there with a laptop and get a coffee could be an area that operators could really cash in on." 

As an example, she explains that the Park in Bedford, Bedfordshire, has recently added add power and USB sockets for people to charge phones or plug in a laptop to its modular seating in a bid to capitalise on the increase in remote working.


Maximising outdoor space

Perry-Jones adds operators seeking as much space as possible at the height of summer could be a perfect excuse to make the most of, what she believes is, under-utilised outdoor space 

“Generally, people don't make as much of their outside spaces as they can do so it could be a good opportunity to put nice booths and pergolas outside, which could have maybe covered spaces over the top.

"If we've got covered spaces then we can also get power there, so of course we can get lighting, external heaters, and then maybe we could do a direct link to the bar or something or maybe there's external TV. There's a lot we can do with technology which can make this an easier experience.

Related topics: Property law

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