'We couldn't have taken any more money'

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sunny days: operators described a boost from good weather but said there were admittedly challenges to the new outdoor system (image: Getty/Drazen Zigic)
Sunny days: operators described a boost from good weather but said there were admittedly challenges to the new outdoor system (image: Getty/Drazen Zigic)

Related tags: Manchester, Beer, coronavirus, Health and safety, Operator, Cornwall

Operators recounted a positive first week of outdoor trading amid high demand but said they faced challenging circumstances.

Elaine Wrigley, who runs the Atlas Bar in Manchester’s city centre, said she had felt very encouraged by customers, who had been prepared to wait for tables.

“The weather has been kind to us,” she explained, “and we physically couldn't have taken any more money under the current guidelines and keeping our team and customers safe.”

Wrigley’s bar was among around 23.2% of England’s 89,963 licensed premises which were trading by Thursday 15 April, according to CGA figures.

However, the operator said staffing costs were close to double pre-pandemic levels while takings were about half.

The bar has invested in a permanent venue door security guard to support temperature checking and detail-registering of customers. 

Rainy days ahead

Many customers have been reluctant to download the NHS coronavirus app, slowing down the process. Around two thirds of customers still do not have the app, the licensee estimated.

“This is with great weather,” she added. “We've yet to see the impact of a rainy day and capacity being limited to under the canopy.”

What’s more there had been challenges surrounding customer compliance with rules on face coverings. 

Wrigley explained: “We are constantly having to remind customers to wear their masks when moving through the bar, if they are going to the bathroom or leaving the venue. 

“The Government should also be better supporting us with clear guidance around people who have exemptions. We have refused entry this week, which falls solely on us, where customers became aggressive not wishing to prove mask exemption.”

The operator said her “biggest disappointment” was with the city council's licensing team, after an official opposed the bar’s outside canopy.

While the bar only had three out of eight of the canopy’s panels down, the official claimed the structure had more than 50% of its walls covered.

Wrigley said she would be raising the approach of the licensing team, which also questioned the air volume of the bar’s terrace, with Manchester City Council. 

It comes as housing minister Robert Jenrick wrote to local authority leaders and urged them to take a pragmatic approach when considering Covid-guidelines.

An “overzealous” approach could lead to individuals swerving the pub in favour of socialising in unsafe environments such as private homes, the letter said.

Heart-warming support

Sally Pickles, director at the Bowgie Inn, Crantock, in Cornwall, also experienced fortunate weather and recounted a “wonderful first week” with sunshine boosting trade.

“We are optimistic and it just feels so good to be back up and running. It is so nice to see some of our regulars and for the team to be back at work preparing for what we hope will be a busy season.

“We have robust Covid-safety measures still in place as we want to keep moving safely in the right direction and avoid any further lockdowns.

“After three and a half months of lockdown, it is amazing to get back to doing what we do best and serving drinks and food. The support from all our customers, locals, suppliers, reps and wider community has been heart-warming.”

“If the weather breaks, it [trade] will be a different story, but for now, the forecast looks good,” she said. 

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