Tom Kerridge: Pubs face huge costs, despite adapting

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Tom kerridge Chef Gastropub Food

Pubs have constantly adapted and changed in accordance with Government guidelines but at huge cost, celebrity chef and pub owner Tom Kerridge has told The Morning Advertiser.

This comes just days before the celebrity chef fronts Saving Britain’s Pubs​ on BBC2 this week (Thursday 12 November), which was filmed before and around the time the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Outlining the programme's premise, Kerridge said: “It's trying to showcase the plight pubs face every day in terms of, most pubs are under threat for many different reasons and it's trying to discover what those reasons are.

“We all read about it and see loads of Britain's pubs are closing, it's trying to work out why. Even if a pub is super busy, it may be on the threat of closure.

“It was trying to discover places and the understanding of the different sets of circumstances and different challenge that affect each individual site or each individual area of pubs. You can't blanket and say 'they are all in trouble because of this'.

“It's trying to scratch beneath the surface and understand the different challenges and issues each individual pub faces in various different communities.”

The show looks at four different pubs, highlighting the challenges each faces in its own right from a community-owned venue, a traditional site, a rural Cornish pub and a live music venue.

“[The programme] is looking at all the different things of why pubs face challenges and then right in the middle of filming, coronavirus strikes and everybody's pub, my own included, suddenly becomes hugely put up against, and faces massive challenges," Kerridge added.

“It becomes an incredibly relevant right now three part documentary on saving Britain's pubs as well as it having hugely effect of today's situation we all face.

“Where the pubs have got all sorts of different issues, add on that coronavirus and we are left in a really quite difficult space."

He hoped to hammer home the plight pubs face to the public and highlight how they need support throughout the week.

However, the pub operator also hoped to showcase to licensees how adaptable their businesses needed to be.

Diversifying business

“You need to be proactive, you need to be a bit more diverse, to attack market spaces," Kerridge said.

“Long gone are the days where you open the door at 11am, turn the fruit machines on and people just pile in and spend money.

“Hopefully it showcases for licensees to look at 'OK, I need to find ways of diversifying, building my business and structuring it and looking at making my site operate to its full potential' that isn't just about serving beer and wine.”

When it comes to his own venues, Kerridge echoed the comments of operators across the trade and cited the constantly changing Government guidelines as one of the biggest challenges he has faced.

"The biggest issue we have faced with our pubs has been the understanding, the daily changing rules and understanding of what we can and can't do, where people can come from, which zone are they in, how we can serve them, what time we can serve them until, how many people can sit at a table. It's constantly being thrown at us," he said.

“As the world of hospitality, considering how much pressure and how many changes we are constantly having to pivot towards, we have adapted incredibly well but it's at a huge cost, financially and in terms of jobs and people's livelihoods. It's massive.

“In terms of the infrastructure of the PPE, health and safety, due diligence, risk assessments, all we have had to go through to get ourselves to be in a position to be able to reopen that fits in with Government guidelines and health and safety protocol for us to be able to be one of the places, that according to Public Health England, is only anywhere between 3% and 5% of coronavirus contract is in hospitality and food-led outlets as opposed to care homes and education.”

The hospitality industry has done everything, above and beyond, which is why cases are so low, and is why it becomes incredibly frustrating when we become, what almost feels like scapegoats, Kerridge continued.

“You have to reduce table size, two metres apart, eat or drink out with someone in your same household and then go home at 10pm," he said. "All these restrictions, the hospitality industry has embraced.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure we recognise this is a huge crisis in terms of public health but then at the same point, we do need a lot more support.

“It's incredibly frustrating but this industry has been hugely adaptive and in general, is massively positive with an outlook however, we know there's huge dark clouds sitting above it.”

While praising the industry for its flexibility in constantly changing to suit Government regulations, Kerridge emphasised how that is the only choice.

No choice

“We have been left with no option [but to adapt]," Kerridge added. "The option is try and go with whatever the Government is deciding or you end up shutting for good. The frustrating thing about that is the more times we are asked to change, the money has run out.

“There is nothing left. We can't keep changing. Fewer people are coming through the doors, sales figures are crashing – anywhere between 50% and 90% lower than previously and that is just not sustainable.

“It is incredibly unfair the way wet-led pubs in particular have been treated. From a food point of view, you can still operate but wet-led pubs haven't even had a VAT reduction and that I find incredibly disheartening for the pub industry.

“I can't fathom why that is. I don't understand why that isn't being supported. For wet-led pub owner, I can only imagine you must feel 100% like you're being victimised.”

The celebrity chef also criticised how this makes pub patrons appear, adding: “It's also incredibly condescending of the people who use pubs.

“Not just the publicans but if people think pubs are just there for people who drink 16 pints and get drunk, fall over and lick each other is ridiculous. People go out and sit there, have a couple of pints and a really nice social evening.

“To just think we are going to ban everyone from doing this because everybody goes out and gets drunk and falls over, it's an incredibly condescending view of the British public on a grander scale.”

Looking ahead, Kerridge predicted a nervous reopening for pubs when lockdown is due to be eased in December.

“It's going to be tentatively opening," he said. "There will be a lot of nervousness. The sad thing is the businesses will not be able to go back to fully operational in terms of how they were before.

“That fully operated business takes years to grow because you have an understanding day in day out how many people turn up, how many people are coming in, you have a business recognition, you have something to gauge against, P&Ls and cash flow that has some form of stability so you can build on that.

“Moving forward none of us know what that situation and landscape is like. Even the best pubs, it's going to be a less offering, won't be as vast, tentatively as big because we are all going to be nervous there is no money left to spend, we are literally scraping barrels, all of us.

“There isn't cash reserves sat in pubs to open. It's going to be a case of putting things together and hopefully people coming through the door.

“I'm sure we will all be elated we can be open however, how we operate is going to be tentatively nervously waiting to see how many guests come through the door.”

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