Pub doors might be open again buts it a different world inside and out says Steven Alton

With pubs now beginning to reopen their doors to customers in England, but the experience will be a vastly different one for many. Our members run pubs the length and breadth of the UK, from rural village community locals, through to bustling city centre bars and everything in between.

The challenges they have faced over the last three months have been hugely different for every licensee and it will take many a long time to recover from the closure period. Many pubs rely on seasonal trade to boost takings ahead of quieter winter months and the loss of custom over what felt like the best Spring we have had in 50 years, will have been disheartening for customers and pub owners alike.

The BII is the leading independent membership body for licensees and individuals working in our sector today. In 2021, we will be celebrating our 40th year as a charity providing trusted support for the fantastic professionals who run our pubs. We have been working as hard as we can to ensure that they could protect themselves and their businesses over this incredibly challenging period.

We introduced our seventh free helpline last month, which gives them access to help and support across all areas of Health & Safety, including protecting customers from Covid-19. Along with a raft of other support available, we have ensured that they have the most up-to-date information and joined forces with other key trade bodies, including CAMRA, to create a powerful voice for pubs when speaking to Government. We strongly believe this collaboration has helped in the championing of pubs and their vital importance and want to continue the excellent relationship we have all formed to support pubs and their customers in the future.

Eight out of 10 of our members who run pubs are single site operators, many are family businesses and your pub is their home too. They have spent the last three months ensuring that when you do return to the pub, you can do so as safely as possible. They have had to adapt, as we all have during this pandemic.

We know however, that the people at the heart of great pubs are resilient, innovative and positive – traits that we have seen in abundance over this period of global crisis. Despite not being able to serve customers as they usually do, many reacted by diversifying their businesses overnight, running takeaway and delivery services for locals and vulnerable people in their communities. Some have turned their pubs into grocery shops, providing basic supplies where there were none, donating goods and their time to charity to ensure that everyone was taken care of and for most, this has been a break-even service at best, at a time where they too are struggling financially.

We have all been looking forward to the first sip of a freshly poured pint in our favourite pub, but pubs are so much more than a place to just drink. They provide an essential service to communities and are woven into the fabric of our society as places to meet, celebrate, commiserate and connect with friends, family and likeminded people.

The pubs you will be returning to may look different. They will have more rules to adhere to, more signs to read, a different layout and even a reduced selection of the food and drink we have all been desperately missing.

The one thing that will remain the same is the people, who are the heart and soul of the pub. Staff and customers alike, many will be nervous of the new routines, the new processes and the new “normal”, but as pubs being to fill with the sounds of laughter and of friends, old and new, chatting to each other over a pint or two, we hope to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the return of the Great British pub.

Steven Alton is the BII chief operating officer. The British Institute of Innkeeping, which exists to support, inspire, celebrate and promote the diversity of talented individuals working in the licensed trade. It has more than 8,000 like-members, working across all areas of the sector – from apprentices to bar staff, pub chefs, managers, tenants, lessees and free traders. Alton was previously the currently the managing director of Vianet data management.

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