At the Forum of British Pubs we are hearing some terrible stories and seeing some very sad impacts on individuals and families. The trade needs help and we are trying to provide as much practical help and support as we can, as well as campaigning with the government for focused effective support and help.
While the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme was helping some operators, with wet-led pubs it does nothing. I suspect that in many cases it shifted weekend trade to earlier in the week and, to be honest, I am unconvinced that a few days of offering these discounted meals would compensate for months of closure and operating on a limited capacity.
There is a suggestion that it takes us on average about 2 months for people to form a habit.
People have had lots of time during lockdown to change their behaviour towards going out to eat and drink. Many customers may not come back at all and those that do may return less often or eat and drink differently. So, depending on where you are, these changes may be permanent and their impact may vary in severity. If, for example, you are in a rural setting with a limited pool of clientele and their behaviours change, you may not have enough trade to sustain your business.
Bearing in mind the rents being charged to publicans at the moment is based on fair and maintainable trade, in many cases the pub’s rent will have to be reduced, something the pub operating companies will fight tooth and nail to avoid.
But surely these commercial rents will have to change to reflect the change in the market. A well-run business should be able to anticipate and manage such a change. It is not the fault of the individual tenants that the pub-owning businesses expanded on the back of huge debts and have grown to rely on squeezing as much revenue as they can from tenants through an outdated and quite frankly unfair tie!
Some will be truly poor businesses or badly run, but a great many will be perfectly viable businesses that are forced into closure. There will be many unemployed people who will be tempted by the lure of running their own pub business and walk into an industry that in many cases they will fail, but as long as they have a pulse, don’t cause too many problems and pay their rent they will be welcomed.
The industry will bounce back. It is a great industry. The hospitality sector is full of robust and creative people, but will it be a better industry at the end of it? I doubt it unless we can learn from what has gone before, make it a fairer market for all those involved in it and share out the risks and rewards a bit better than they are at the moment.
My fingers are firmly crossed!
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