Q: Are there any ways that my business may be able to benefit after the current lockdown and into the future?
A: I will restrict the answer to licensing matters; we do not know yet, when and what form release will take but until the recent closure restriction many pubs and other licensed businesses had adapted and innovated.
I recall under tier four attending my local to receive a takeaway food from over the bar and then leaving followed by the barman to hand me my beer outside – pre-ordered click and collect alcohol only.
There are perhaps the following possibilities:
The Business & Planning Act assistance continues until 30 September 2021 (if not extended) and allows fast track use of the highway for tables and chairs (this will become more relevant in the warmer weather) and adds off-sales to those premises licences which do not have the benefit of that automatically.
Will local authorities (particularly relevant to town and city centres) continue with road closures or add others as happened in Europe to stimulate demand?
The high street is in trouble from online delivery takeover with both Debenhams and Topshop not reopening. Do pubs, bars and restaurants have a role to play in helping to re-invigorate the high street and to take advantage of units that are closed?
There will be opportunities out there (and this is happening) for some operators particularly those with cash or who can borrow money, and advantageous terms including rent can be obtained. This is particularly true of the previously saturated casual dining market. If a licence has been rescued by the landlord or the administrator following a closure, then a transfer of the licence is possible and trading can recommence using the same layout pretty quickly.
Will local authorities look holistically at the high street in particular and see licensed operators as part of the solution? Many have over the last 10 or 15 years adopted very strict Cumulative Impact Stress Area Policies where there is a presumption of refusal of new licence applications, but a number of councils have looked at reducing or even removing these. Operators could look to take advantage of the reduction in competitors and/or look to trade later if the policy against later hours is removed.
Will operators look to diversify and fill the gap left particularly by small suppliers who have left the town and city centres, e.g. mini farmers’ markets, more takeaway food and drink and takeaway alcohol? Yes, pubs in particular cannot compete price wise with the off-trade but the majority sell draught beer (kegs, mini kegs, tins etc) which is a unique product which cannot be replicated in the conventional off-trade market.
Consider how best to accommodate hopefully large numbers of customers in summer outside, perhaps with additional outside space, tables and chairs etc, bearing in mind that some changes may require a licence variation.