While restrictions undoubtedly impact on the profitability, indeed the viability, of all venues they have a much bigger impact on the user experience and therefore the longer-term recovery.
As a wet-led pub, my stock and trade is the “pub experience”. I provide a haven for single people, people unwinding after work and people out to socialise.
The very nature and purpose of a wet-led pub is the socialising and the atmosphere. Any level of restriction has a massive impact on this experience and by opening with restrictions we are effectively destroying our own long-term prospects.
As a tourist heavy area, we spent the time in tier one diligently and heartbreakingly turning away anybody we didn’t recognise. You cannot imagine the internal conflict that results from turning people away at the door on a rainy night when the venue is at less than half capacity.
These people will not remember the venue for being Covid-safe, they will remember it for being unfriendly and turning them away at the door.
Every conversation I had outside the pub during the first national lockdown can be surmised as “can’t wait for the pubs to reopen”. Every conversation since can be surmised as “I don’t go out; pubs are rubbish now”.
My regulars don’t want to come to the pub and be told off repeatedly any more than I really want to tell them off. I debated not opening but, as with so many towns, the prospect of being the one that didn’t open didn’t sit well.
Again, these people’s most recent memories of the pub is as a soulless place not to be visited alone.
While under the restrictions, I have had women who would previously come out alone and feel safe telling me they won’t venture out for fear of not getting a seat. Youngsters, who as a rule only come out in groups, have been effectively excluded from the trade for nearly a year.
Yet every time we are “allowed to open” with restrictions it is seen by the press as some victory.
I can assure you that table service and forced seating on Christmas Day was no victory, no success, it felt like hammering the nails into our own coffin.
If gossip is to be believed, we are looking at restrictions easing from late February and some normality for this trade by May.
This means as we leave winter, and the weather improves, the restrictions will allow for us to meet in bigger groups and to socialise at friends’ houses. The sun will bring barbecue parties and beer in the park with off sales – for retail – thriving.
We cannot reopen in any manner other than unrestricted; the trade most desperately needs to open with a celebration.
I cannot draw people from sunny back gardens, the freedom to smoke and cheap supermarket beer with the prospect of table service and being told to sit down.
As an industry we must make it clear that it is a binary situation, we are open or we are closed, there is no in between. To force us to open with restrictions is to undermine what slim opportunities we have to recover in the mid and long term.