Coping with Covid: how the trade is adapting

Pubs reveal their tactics to deal with the latest measures imposed on them in the battle against the virus

People enjoy a drink at the re-opened Boomerang Bar, a so-called ‘wet bar’, where only drinks, not food, are served, in Bray, eastern Ireland on September 21, 2020, after it was made to close on March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP via Getty Images)

Not even a year ago the suggestion that all pubs and clubs will be forced to close by 10pm, that staff and customers must wear masks and that only table-service would be allowed would have been met with wide-eyed disbelief.

In a short period of time, the spread of Covid-19 has led to chaos, confusion and incredible change to the licensed trade.

But even now, operators are adapting and finding ways they can survive and ensure that they will not be business victims of the pandemic.

We caught up with BT Sport customers to see how they are dealing with some of the major issues of the day.

Curfew
Hospitality businesses must close by 10pm

The implementation of a blanket closing time is arguably the most controversial and draconian measure introduced to stop the spread of coronavirus. Critics point to a lack of evidence as to its effectiveness and to hordes of people swarming out onto streets and into off-licences and public transport at the same time.

While it has no doubt led to a loss in trade for many businesses, pubs told us that it has been one of the easier measures to implement.

Justine Lorriman, licensee of the Royal Dyche in Burnley, says: “It’s not really been a problem for us. People are coming out earlier at around 3 to 4pm and understand that they have to be out the door by 10pm.”

The timings mean that pubs and clubs can continue to show live Premier League and Champions League games. This has been a benefit to the Royal Dyche.

“It’s good that you can show games and get some atmosphere for Burnley matches, but we are so close to the stadium and we do miss that matchday buzz.”

Justine Lorriman, The Royal Dyche, Burnley, November 2018 Manager of the Month

She added that trade has been lost due to closing its doors earlier than usual at weekends. This has also been the case at The Diggers, in Edinburgh, which has witnessed another unintended consequence.

Licensee Kevin McGhee said: “From a service point of view 25% of our sales are between 10pm and 1am but most people are drinking earlier and drinking more premium drinks.

“The problem is everyone is spilling out at the same time. The 10.15pm bus is full of customers and the 11.15pm is full of staff.”

Face coverings
Face coverings must be worn indoors by staff and customers when not seated to eat or drink.

The compulsory wearing of masks has proved more problematic for some than the 10pm curfew.

“People have to come in the door with a mask and literally walk 10ft to a table before they can take it off. Everyone has an opinion about masks but you have to just explain that it’s the law and it’s the way it is, ” says Justine.

People order drinks at a bar protected by a perspex screen with the bartender wearing a mask (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Mike White, manager of the Cleveland Arms in Wolverhampton, adds: “For the majority it is not a problem but you get people with fake medical ID cards claiming to have asthma. I’d like to see mandatory masks or you are not allowed in the pub.”

Kevin says that the issue of masks has led to conflicts in the pub, with strong views on both sides of the argument.

“There has been anger, and at times we are seeing the situation bring out the best and the worst in people.”

Table service
Hospitality businesses must operate with table service only

While the requirement for table service has led to many pubs needing to take on more staff, despite operating at a reduced capacity, it has been welcomed in some places by customers.

Justine says: “Some of the customers really like it because they don’t have to move. We have quite a lot of elderly regulars so they don’t mind not queuing at the bar.

“It’s harder for the bar staff and I’ve found myself doing a lot more steps on busy shifts.”

Kevin adds: “My staff are getting more hours because of it. It has been quite an easy one to introduce.”

Mike says: “Our capacity has been reduced from 420 to 130 and by 5.45pm on a Saturday the tables are full. People are happy here because they know how clean and safe we keep the place.”

Mike White, The Cleveland Arms, Wolverhampton,
February 2019 Manager of the Month

Noise levels
The law: Noise levels must be kept at 85 decibels or below in England and Wales. Background music and noise from televisions is banned in Scotland.

The ban in Scotland has led to the odd spectacle of fans watching live sport in near silence.

Kevin explains: “People are frustrated about it, they like to hear the commentary and to hear music. Instead people can hear other’s conversations.”

Justine adds that she now uses an app to keep a check on the volume levels in the pub. Meanwhile Mike has introduced a ‘yellow and red card’ system.

“If people get carried away in the moment we give them a warning and they know that next time it will be a red.”

Track and Trace
The name and contact details of at least one member of every group of six must be recorded and kept for 21 days.

Many staff at the Royal Dyche and the Diggers are elderly and do not have smart phone technology. This means the pubs are generally using pen and paper systems for track and trace.

Justine says: “One of the benefits is that you get to know more people’s names as they are coming through the door.”

Kevin adds: “There are so many customers who I know by their face or by what they drink but now I can remember more names too.”

Kevin McGhee, The Diggers, Edinburgh, December 2017 Manager of the Month

The Cleveland Arms is part of the Mitchells & Butler group which provide an app to help pubs take customer details.

Business building

Like many other businesses around the country the pubs we spoke to are looking at creative ways of bringing in customers.

The Cleveland Arms, which won a BT Sport Manager of the Month Award for its event programme, is keen to get these started again, albeit at a reduced capacity. Meanwhile the Royal Dyche is investigating quizzes and events that can be run with people at tables.

Justine adds: “Something like this makes people realise how fragile pubs are. It is tough but we will get through this.”

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