'Unviable' and 'catch 22': operators share thoughts on post-lockdown tiers

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags coronavirus lockdown Legislation Beer Food Health and safety Cornwall

Wet-led licensees said they are bracing themselves for months of extended closure as they fear it will not be viable to reopen under another tiered system of restrictions even if permitted.

Diane Booth runs community bar the Malt Disley, with her daughter in Disley, Cheshire and said her business has been “massively affected” by restrictions despite setting up online sales.

She explained: “Government funding and furlough is currently what we rely on to cover costs and wages.

“We will not be in a position to reopen again with restrictions. It is unviable. We would have to be in tier one before we could even consider reopening.”

The pub has no kitchen facilities and was not able to trade after the second lockdown when the area was placed into tier two.

Trade drying up

Booth describing the substantial meal requirement as “impossible” for her business. 

The pub managed to generate about 20% of its normal revenue through online and off-sales in December but the off-sale ban in the third lockdown has meant trade has “almost dried up” at less than 5%.

The operator said in her area, it was only the larger chain pubs or those not complying with restrictions able to make any money under the tiers.

Government ministers have suggested in recent days the lockdown will be eased with a return to tiers​ but no roadmap out of closure has been established yet.

Two-thirds of operators were not expecting to reopen before April, according to the Hospitality Leaders Poll​, conducted by Lumina Intelligence on behalf of The Morning Advertiser (MA), MCA, Big Hospitality and Restaurant.

Sally Pickles operates the Bowgie Inn, Newquay in Cornwall, which was one of the last areas in England to see pubs closed this winter.

Catch 22

She told The MA​ she does not think the tiered system works and left her seaside site in a “catch 22”. 

“What happened in December proved lower tiers attract people to disobey rules and travel to lower tiers to shop and dine out,” Pickles explained. “This put us and our staff at risk and ultimately caused the coronavirus cases in Cornwall to increase.”

The operator was confident she could reopen under a rule of six on gatherings and a curfew on 10pm when permitted, however any harsher rules would make operating difficult.

Pickles added: “We understand public safety is of utmost importance but we want to come out of this with a viable business. The tier system (other than tier one) does not offer viable trading conditions for us, but tier one brings the previously mentioned increase in cases.

"We are hopeful for Easter but the worst case scenario is hopefully May Day at the latest."

Wet-only operator Chris Davies also shared his thoughts about a potential return to tiers on The MA’s​ social media.

No one-size-fits all approach

He said: “As with most things we've experienced, this is another case of it being an acceptable approach for some, but not for everyone.”

Some form of restricted opening may work for Davies’ site, which has a steady trade spread out throughout the week, but this would not work for “probably the majority” of other wet pubs.

But a return of the substantial meal requirement would not be workable for his site, the operator stated. 

He added: “I suppose the (obvious to those in the trade) point is that a one-size-fits-all approach is not really a satisfactory solution. 

“I daresay every licensed premises could come up with a way of operating under some form of restrictions for their particular business and that the ones who know how to do this would be the operators themselves. But policing and approving this of course, as well as being able to rely on everyone to do things as they propose, would likely prove too much.”

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