Pubs are reopening post-lockdown – Anjum Ali Saiyad on what to expect

Anjum Ali Saiyad is a twenty-something student living in London, who has been keeping busy and others entertained with regular blogs about life during lockdown. Like most of us, he’s celebrating the news that pubs are reopening post-lockdown.

Whether it is an evening drink with friends or a Sunday lunch with family, our nation’s pubs are a big part of our cultural and social life. But like so many businesses, pubs have been closed since the beginning of lockdown in March.

Pubs are reopening

So, the announcement that  pubs, bars, restaurants and cafés are reopening is great news – not just for drinkers but for business owners too. It will be a different experience and a long way from what we’re used to, but at least pubs are reopening!

What you can and can’t do in the pubs post-lockdown

Clearly, the hospitality industry is an area where there are some serious obstacles to overcome in terms of keeping everyone safe post-COVID-19. When I think about what going out for drinks used to mean, it was all about being close to people – at the bar, in a beer garden, or at your table. Clearly, that makes it tricky as we’re still trying to do our bit to stop the spread of an infectious disease.

It’s no surprise then that the new post-lockdown pub experience will be very different from 4 July. Only one household will be able to meet another at a time in the pub, and we’re all also being encouraged to book online if we’re eating out. It means we’ll need to plan our social lives ahead a little – something I’m not great at.

One of the big concerns for pub owners is the two-metre social distancing rule. Many say that it’s going to be impossible for pub goers to maintain this on their premises. So how will social distancing work in the pub?

How to socially distance in the pub

The good news for landlords, breweries and drinkers is that the two-metre rule has been relaxed. The Government guidance is now that pub goers need to maintain a one metre (or ‘one metre-plus’) distance. There’s a lot of confusion about this, but basically the guidance is that if you can stay two metres apart, then that is best. Where you can’t – say when you’re with your mates down the pub – then one metre or over is OK.

But what about when you’re actually inside the pub? How will social distancing work in practice? While I’m sure I can stay over a metre away from my flatmates and other drinkers when I’m sat at a table, what about at the bar?

Well, ordering at the bar is fine under the new rules, but drinking there isn’t. Some pubs might even stick to table service only. Other more tech savvy pubs are even likely to ask people to use their phones to order where they can. Other rules and regulations you’re likely to see include one-way systems and a one-in, one-out system for the toilets. If that doesn’t slow down the amount people drink, I don’t know what will!

Pubs will also keep a temporary list of customers, just in case there’s an outbreak, to make tracing people easier. And finally, one of the more bizarre pieces of guidance is that people should try not to shout, to reduce the risk of infection. It could be tricky to enforce, especially now the Premier League is back on!

What are pubs doing to keep the experience safe?

One of the most interesting aspects of the coronavirus lockdown is seeing how different businesses adapt to ongoing Government guidance.

For smaller independent pubs and bars, the lockdown has meant adapting or risking going out of business. I know that many of the local bars near to where I live in London have changed their businesses into ‘bottle shops’. So, no drinkers on the premises, but still a way of selling to loyal customers and get some income.

This generally isn’t the case with the bigger chains – most had the resources to  close their doors temporarily and furlough staff or adapt. But as almost all pubs now reopen on July 4, we’ll see plenty of physical changes to the pub experience itself.

One of the biggest chains – Greene King – are encouraging people to pre-book tables to avoid big crowds at the bar. They’re also investing around £15 million in keeping customers safe, with everything from perspex screens between tables and yes, even a one-in one-out traffic light system for the loos. Wetherspoon is also investing millions in similar measures, including masks and even goggles for bar staff.

As for the smaller independent pubs, I’ll be interested to see how they adapt. Some premises are tiny, and it’s impossible to see how social distancing can be enforced. It’s likely that many will get creative – opening outdoor spaces and doing everything they can to keep their service going and their customers safe. But for some small pubs, reopening for just a few socially-distanced customers won’t be viable – and they’re likely to continue as take outs and bottle shops for the time being.

So, it’s great news that pubs are reopening. Particularly for the big chains. And being able to go out and drink with friends and family again is cause for celebration. But let’s all make sure we look after the small local businesses battling through lockdown and surviving this far – they deserve our support too, now more than ever.

Read more from Anjum in his regular blogs here.

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