Forum of British Pub members have reported back to us that there was a very low start to trading during the weekend, with turnover well below the corresponding weekend last year.
Many publicans reported turnover of less than 50% of their normal levels. This may have been affected by the poor weather, but also seems to reflect the understandable reluctance of many people to venture out to public places for fear of the virus and a potential new spike in cases.
Our members also reported that the lower trading levels had given them a chance to test out the new systems, training and processes they had put in place to keep staff and customers safe.
On the whole, customer reaction to the safety measures and changes to ordering and serving has been positive, and in most cases customers behaved well. Lots of outlets had bookings in place and then there were some drop in customers throughout the day. A key lesson seems to be to encourage customers to use tables and seating wherever possible. This goes against the usual British ‘standing at the bar’ behaviour we often see in many pubs.
There were a few instances where larger groups of individuals caused some problems and a lack of control led to the outlet being closed by authorities for a few hours or, in some cases, for the rest of the day.
There is still a big demand for takeaway (food and drink) being reported by Forum members.
Understandably, many customers are still choosing to get their beer from local pubs and microbreweries, drinking at home with friends and family.
This does highlight an underlying issue for the trade. Pub-owning businesses, particularly the regulated companies, face the challenge that their assets may well be overpriced in this new trading environment. Landlords who are focussed on estate values and shareholder returns will not take kindly to being told that their pubs will not generate the returns they expect from the market and may need to be revalued in terms of rent.
Social distancing and a change in public behaviour inevitably leads to less people in the pub and operating in a safe manner seems to increase labour costs as the need for well-trained staff, in greater numbers, is now a high priority.
Those of our members who were able to utilise outside areas, like gardens, car parks, bowling greens and, in some cases neighbouring gardens, reported steady business.
It will be interesting to see what happens when the planned pavement licences come into operation and, as the weather improves over the summer, we may see a steady increase in customers visiting pubs and bars.
Early insights from an evolving trade
Early indications seem to reveal that this will be a slow but steady journey to rebuild the pub trade over the coming months and the hospitality sector is still in a very fragile state after the Covid-19 lockdown.
Looking back at the first reopening it would seem that a significant proportion of the weekend’s footfall was driven by ‘Generation Z’ and young millennials with a high proportion of people aged between 18 and 34 visiting a pub or restaurant on Saturday. The older generations tended to stay at home which will be worrying for those pubs relying on older customers who often tend to eat as well as drink on their visits.
It also needs to be noted that a number of publicans (that were able to do so financially) stayed closed on Saturday with a view to opening this week. In contrast some felt it either unsafe to open their pub with the restrictions in place or they simply found it economically unviable at this time.
Receiving the guidelines at such a last minute stage, with further guidance on signing in customers arriving as late as the 2nd July didn’t help matters. A little more time and support from government would have been appreciated, with publicans trying to work out the guidelines and take advice right up to the very last minute, something the Forum of British Pubs worked hard to provide!