The ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ as Nelson Mandela put it.
No way have we faced the magnitude of challenges encountered by Nelson Mandela and no way will the ‘walk’ be as long. However, the journey to complete recovery in pubs and hospitality is certainly picking up speed and we are headed in the right direction. But as Boris Johnson alluded to earlier in the pandemic ‘there will be bumps in the road’ and yes there have been, although we have always continued forwards, albeit at varying speeds.
We are some 16 months into having to live our lives with restrictions, but who’s counting. It’s more important that we continue to make progress and do not have to return to more stringent restrictions and lockdowns.
Hospitality started to open again on April 12th, with customers being allowed to drink outside, and then inside with social distancing, restricted numbers, table ordering and ‘Track and Trace’ from May 17th. Trade has been good, even with the weather being so poor. It just goes to show how desperate people have been to get out and back to the pub. The real winners have obviously been those with good outside areas and cask ale has definitely been a big attraction.
The Bank Holiday trade might have been good, but estimates are that trade nationally was down 21 million pints compared to a normal Spring Bank Holiday weekend, due to the impact of social distancing and restrictions on trade.
The most significant recent ‘bump in the road’ has been the Indian variant, which is definitely causing concern, but it does appear that the vaccination programme is continuing to prove effective and we have had days with no recorded deaths. However, the NHS is still nearly at capacity, as people start to come forward with ailments they have harboured during the lockdowns.
Current restrictions are damaging on the viability of pubs and brewers and are impeding recovery, along with the fact people yearn for more freedom to visit the pub without restrictions to enjoy it as normal (e.g. without table service and social distancing etc.).
With regards to a UK Covid-19 vaccine certification scheme. Michael Gove MP stated that “it is more difficult to envisage certificates in the sorts of locations that people visit spontaneously, like the pub, for example”. He said there are some pubs with capacities bigger than nightclubs and therefore, government will “try to make a proportionate judgement based on the nature of the venue and the activities that go on there”.
The next step forward on the Road Map is June 21st, when, amongst other things, hospitality should be allowed to trade without the restrictions. But once again the government is saying they will be driven by ‘the data not the dates’ and will announce their decision on June 14th.
Trading without restrictions is going to be a massive step forward for hospitality, as although the most recent memory will be of an extremely busy Bank Holiday, whilst the sun eventually shone, it needs remembering that there are still over 2,000 pubs closed in the country and those trading can only use, on average, 65% of their normal capacity and overheads are massively increased by providing table service, at a time when there is a massive staff shortage.
Whether the restrictions are lifted or not, this will be the next issue facing the industry, staff shortages. It is reputed that there could be as much as a 40% shortfall in staff. But the industry has become accustomed to tackling challenging issues, so this will just be one more along the ‘bumpy road’.
All the best,