The Government is expected to set out which areas will fall under which tiers in its amended tier system tomorrow (Thursday 26 November).
Localised rules will come into effect when lockdown in England is lifted on 2 December but could spell continued closure for many pubs.
Under the toughest tier three measures, pubs will remain closed and just be permitted to operate takeaway.
Pubs will be allowed to open if they serve a “substantial meal” and customers can only visit with members of their household if their area is placed into tier two.
For tier one pubs, the rule of six is in place and the 10pm curfew has been extended to last orders at 10pm and everyone out by 11pm.
The Government has suggested large parts of the country will be placed under tier two and tier three measures.
Anxiety ahead of announcement
It’s an anxious wait for licensees across the country.
Cheshire-based operator Martin Barnes runs two sites, the George & Dragon in Holmes Chapel and the Antrobus Arms situated between Northwich and Warrington, Cheshire.
He is feeling nervous about tomorrow’s announcement. “I’m not sure I’ll sleep all that much tonight!”
Barnes has spent the day trying to work out what to do if his pubs were placed in tier two – where opening would be permitted but only for a food-led offer.
“Tier three and one are simple decisions for very different reasons,” he explained. But tier two means it may not be worthwhile opening.
Licensee Daniel Whitehead knows all too well the weight of local restrictions, operating the Lowerhouse Inn in Oldham, Greater Manchester.
He told The Morning Advertiser (MA) his wet-led site was only viable in tier one but expects the area to be plunged into tier three after lockdown.
“Being in Oldham, Greater Manchester, we have consistently been the worst Covid affected town in the district and sometimes the worst in England as a whole.
"Obviously we are feeling really unsure at the moment, whether to carry on or call it quits and seek another career path. Like many others, we’re not sure how much longer we can survive like this."
Hope in tier one
Operator Piers Baker runs the Sun Inn, Dedham on the Essex/Suffolk border and the Church Street Tavern in Colchester, Essex and has a similar concern.
He was previously operating under tier two measures, with mixing between different households not allowed indoors.
He said: “If we get to reopen in tier one, there is hope and the light is bright. The extension of the curfew in this respect is good.
"If we get to reopen in tier two, it is likely we will operate at a loss. We had two weeks of tier two and made a loss. But that was with some 'drinks only' trade. That has now been stopped. So the curfew extension makes no difference in tier two."
Baker said he needed to have further discussions with his landlords as his previous rent agreements did not cover tier two.
He added he was still crunching numbers but had a hunch that tier two would not be economically viable. "We might be able to open for December and make a loss, but we would need to close in January to stop that loss," he added.
Sally Pickles operates the Bowgie Inn, a destination site in Newquay, Cornwall, which was reporting relatively low coronavirus rates before the lockdown.
Although her site would be able to adjust to a requirement to serve food with alcohol, she is worried about the impact of the tiered system on tourism trade.
Residents of tier three areas have been instructed to avoid travelling out of their area for non-essential journeys and residents elsewhere warned to not visit tier three places.
“We are reliant on visitors,” Pickles explained.
She will open bookings for the inn when a tier is announced but only seven days in advance. “We are wary rules might change,” she said. “The key is you have to be able to adapt as things change or develop. It’s just part and parcel of it all, it's always a balancing act but more so this year.”
Pickles anticipated “a bit of excitement” in the first few days of opening but believes people will want to do Christmas shopping when the shops reopen which could deter customers.
Here is what The MA's readers said on social media when asked their thoughts ahead of the announcement.
Doomed— Adrian Doyle (@adriandoyle062) November 25, 2020
Doesnt really matter. Only tier 1 where we can operate as a wet led pub. The food options only work for family led outlets. This was all designed to stop the pub crawls, there must have been easier ways. But you can still go from shop to shop in malls ?— theBLUESTONE ( bluey ) (@blueybarsteward) November 25, 2020
It's sad that Tier 1, operating at about 50% takings of last December is the godsend we are all hoping for.— The Caxton Arms (@Caxton_Arms) November 25, 2020
Can’t see T1 being an option, T2 was a slow death last time but it’s the best we can hope for. Awful situation for hospitality.— Samantha Norris (@SammySnailer) November 25, 2020