22 July, 2020

Happy customers across the UK enjoyed their first pints and non-homemade cocktails at the start of July as its hospitality sector reopened after months of lockdown. But normal service has hardly resumed.

The government permitted bars and pubs to reopen with 1m social distancing measures in place. Personally I’d always choose a 6m rule when I go out so I can enjoy my own company, but for the masses the 1m rule is a total farce because clearly it all goes out of the window after a few Martinis.

It’s also not much fun for potentially anxious customers having to follow a oneway system into a pub, stick to their one table, watch football with no crowds and wear face masks – it isn’t exactly traditional British pub vibes. On the other side of the bar things are even more complex. It can take years to fine tune a venue so it runs efficiently and most profitably, but with a 1m rule it’s time to start over afresh. Bars need a new business plan.

For starters the distancing rule significantly compromises capacity while mandatory table service could cause a Starbucks effect, with people taking up a whole table and nursing one beer for three hours just to get out of the house. The majority of bars aren’t even used to operating table service and, while it gives staff the opportunity to deliver a better quality of service, it just doesn’t seem profitable. This is why many venues across the country decided not to reopen because it won’t make financial sense until social distancing is abolished. 

Big  five-star hotel bars are far better suited to these rules because they already have the space, table service systems and staff volume to make it work, unlike neighbourhood bars. It’s also a risk that if a bar serves a guest who had contracted the virus before their visit then it might be forced to close again, which would be totally demoralising.

But the most important factor to reopening isn’t just how much money can be made, it’s whether the staff feel comfortable doing so. Even if they’re keen to come back from furlough, operators need to decide if it’s fair to put them in a potentially stressful environment, where they have much bigger responsibilities than pre-coronavirus.

A lot of places aren’t used to table service to start with and, given there’s fewer people in the bar, they’ll expect a better quality of service. Maybe that’s a good thing in the long run but let’s not forget staff will also have to clean more and get used to every night feeling like a Tuesday.

The 1m rule also isn’t law so the enforcing of it will be solely down to the bartenders and floor staff to keep everyone feeling safe and comfortable inside the venue. It’s great to see people smiling with their pints and taking a big step towards normality, but for guests to successfully distance, have a good time, enjoy quality service and for the venue to make money seems almost impossible.

Keywords: Nick Strangeway

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