Oakman Inns ‘already fully booked on 4 July’

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Restart schedule: Oakman Inns CEO Peter Borg-Neal has outlined why he has decided to open on 4 July
Restart schedule: Oakman Inns CEO Peter Borg-Neal has outlined why he has decided to open on 4 July

Related tags: Coronavirus, Oakman inns

Multiple operator Oakman Inns has received thousands more people viewing its website and bookings have soared, CEO Peter Borg-Neal told The Morning Advertiser (MA).

This followed the business issuing a statement on its website, confirming its pubs will open on the proposed 4 July date.

Chief operating officer Dermot King said: “We will be opening on 4 July, despite the lack of clarity given to the hospitality sector by the Government. We cannot wait any longer and won’t change our plans unless the Prime Minister intervenes.

“The operational challenges of restarting a business are complex. We need to plan three weeks out to arrange supplies of, in our case, fresh food and cask ales.

“While the rules on furlough allow us to complete training, we cannot prepare menus and that requires time. Unless the Government performs another policy U-turn, we need to invest in that time now.”

“We have taken advice and done everything we can to ensure when we do reopen, the health and safety of our customers and staff is fully protected.”

The company’s statement mentioned the difficulty in operating with the distancing rules in place and the different two-metres compared to one-metre can have.

King added: “There is a huge different for the hospitality sector when you compare the effects of operating with two-metre spacing as opposed to one-metre spacing. For many smaller premises, as well as those who don’t have significant outdoor areas, it simply will not be viable to open with the two-metre rule.

“It’s no exaggeration to say if the Government does anything further to prevent pubs, bars and restaurants from opening on 4 July, and doesn’t reduce social distancing from two metre to one metre, then there will be large numbers of job losses in the hospitality sector as well as premises that probably never open again.

“Everyone is looking forward to the day when some sort of normality returns to the country but if the Government doesn’t act fast, we won’t be toasting that moment in pubs and bars because most of them will have had to shut down.”

Want to open

Borg-Neal went into further detail on exactly how the layout in the pubs will be.

He added: “We have done it for two-metres but that is two-metres face to face. We are going closer than that for back-to-back and we are using screening so we can get quite a lot of covers in.

“We want to get open, prove it is safe and hopefully all our colleagues can open as well. After all, we operated to 20 March, we have got 1,000 people and not one of our employees contracted Covid-19.

“Where is the evidence? I can maybe understand in a basement, micropub environment but a pub garden, really? A socially-spaced sit down, drinking and eating in a pub that is properly managed with cleaning and sanitisation.

“The parks are packed when the sunshine, the village ponds, the riversides, takeaway beer. No supervision. People have even been buying takeaway drinks and going into the gardens in my closed pubs because we have to pick up the rubbish.

“What they are doing now is more dangerous than opening the pubs. They are just so detached from reality.”

Borg-Neal also went on to say how he doesn’t think pubs’ licences will be at risk by reopening on the proposed date.

He added: “Our bookings have gone through the roof. I took the decision on Wednesday [17 June] that we are just going to crack on.

“I really don't think local authorities will want to take our licences away over this.”

Physical changes

The Oakman boss explained that if the Government was to delay the reopening of pubs, he wasn’t sure how the company would handle it.

Borg-Neal said: “If it [the reopening date was pushed back by] a week.... I don't know. We have ordered the food, we have ordered the beer, we have taken our staff off furlough.

“We have spent something like £150,000 on physical changes to the pubs, the garden areas and everything else, we are trying to do the right thing. They [the Government) just need to get on it with it.

“They shouldn't be worrying about people going to the pub when everyone's on the London Underground. They should have the Track & Trace in place, what's happened to that? Shambles.”

The Oakman CEO also outlined the trade had been supportive of his decision to reopen on 4 July and he hopes this will help fellow operators as well as how much traffic the company’s website has received since the announcement of reopening.

He added: “If we get open and show it works, it will actually bring forward the days other guys can get open as well.

“Our website normally gets about 5,000 to 6,000 hits a month, we got 13,000 yesterday (Thursday 18 June) alone.

“We are fully booked in many pubs on 4 July already. We took more than 1,000 bookings by lunch time yesterday (Thursday 18 June). The bookings are flying in.

“We are having to take more people off furlough to handle the bookings. Customers have questions, asking what measures and when we explain them, they go ahead and book.”

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