Some pubs and restaurants are not able to reopen in April, what about them?

The long-promised light at the end of the tunnel is finally beginning to look real. This week sees the biggest step in reopening yet - and it includes the holy grail of outdoor hospitality.

While the beckoning of the beer gardens might be a tantalising prospect, for some in the industry it’s more bittersweet. In February, the British Beer & Pub Association forecasted that three in five UK pubs would have to remain closed when the outdoor-only rules came into effect. 

After renovations totalling nearly £6k, an inspection by the council’s licensing department suggested the lack of an outdoor entrance might render it unusable.

Manchester City Council has confirmed parts of the Northern Quarter will be pedestrianised again, allowing a number of bars and restaurants to open earlier. However, not everywhere has been so lucky.

This includes The Rising Sun on Queen Street. “When I applied out front, I couldn’t have any tables because of the building site opposite,” says landlord Gary Smith. Meanwhile, their back area is occupied by council-owned parking.

It is located near the town hall, where many surrounding roads will eventually become part of a precinct on Albert Square. Smith reckons, “The council should take advantage of it now, and close it off a bit earlier. That would be fantastic for us.”

The Rising Sun Pub Off Deansgate Manchester
The Rising Sun pub on Queen Street, just off Deansgate

Confusion and compliance

For those who have been allowed to adapt, there have been issues complying with confusing guidance. Sammy Shonn runs Sammy’s, an independent cocktail bar on Swan Street (main pic above). He has recently invested in making an outside seating area. 

“I obviously don’t have much money because of everything that’s happened, so it was a big decision to make,” he says. “It was like, if I don’t do it, I’ll be screwed, I won’t be able to open for at least a month and a half.”

After renovations totalling nearly £6k, an inspection by the council’s licensing department suggested the lack of an outdoor entrance might render it unusable.

“It doesn’t make sense that you can go into a coffee shop and wait for a takeaway coffee, but you can’t walk through the bar to sit down,” he says.

The area has since been approved for use in April, but Shonn considers this a “soft opening” with only four tables. 

Mojo Bar And Club With Red Neon Sign And Lights At Night In Manchester
Mojo bar is unable to open its Manchester branch on 12 April

The cost of lockdown 

This is an opinion shared by many of those with outside space. “There’s no chance we can make a profit. If we can just reduce cash burn and, more importantly, get back to paying staff 100%, that’s what we’ve chosen to do,” says Martin Greenhow, Managing Director of MOJO. The chain has five venues including one in Manchester. Its first-floor location will keep it shut until May, but some other sites are opening.

“I’m really proud of my industry as everyone has really grasped the nettle, but the worry is that the brakes are going to be slammed all over again.” 

It is an outlook that Smith is already preparing for. Not only is the pub unable to start serving customers in April, he’s sceptical about opening his doors the following month. 

“There’ll be a surge [of Covid] because places that are opening are not going to adhere to the law. They will squeeze as many people as they can into the beer gardens,” he says. 

“It’s got to be policed properly this time because they were letting people off before.”

Has hospitality changed for good?

While rule enforcement may be a worry, other pandemic instigated developments have proved to take away the stress in other areas.

“QR code menus have been my hobby horse for years,” explains Greenhow, “paper menus have a bigger environmental impact and production costs, and they don’t last. I don’t think we’ll ever go back.”

“Table service has also given us the opportunity to upskill, and we’ve seen a change in sales: embracing high-quality cocktails rather than just spirit and mixers,” he says.

That said, not all of those adapting their business model during COVID have reaped similar benefits, especially when it comes to the now ubiquitous drinks takeaway.

Shonn offered takeaway in the first lockdown, then switched to a delivery service when the option of restaurants offering takeaway alcohol was banned in lockdown three. 

“It’s more marketing to make sure people don’t forget me. I’ve not made much money out of it,” he says. “You’ve got to make it, go to the car, and time it right. I would say yes to anywhere in Manchester, so sometimes the journeys are thirty to forty minutes.”

“I’ve gotten to see my regulars which I love, they’re really loyal - but it can be arduous.” 

The return of socialising

Despite the ups and downs that have come with the process of reopening, the desire to start going out again remains certain.

“There is a huge pent-up demand in society,” says Greenhow. “Our target audience is young professionals, and at that point in your life, [it's] imperative to mix and meet other people. I think there’s going to be a rush to get out there.”

While we are all excited to support our venues and enjoy this week's newfound freedoms, spare a thought for those businesses that are unable to open yet. Get involved in any takeaway offering they have, and make a note to give them some love when indoor drinking and dining is back. Oh and keep in mind that there are rules and etiquette for pubs and restaurants that everyone really needs to follow to ensure that this stage of the reopening doesn't mean that the later stages are set back again. 

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