Things can only get better, perhaps

The pubs are opening…hurrah. The pubs will have a higher cost base and less customers…boo.

I have no doubt there’ll be a surge in pub going on 4th July and good luck to the pubs and their customers. My suspicion is it’ll be the equivalent of a New Year’s Eve occasion with a January dip to follow.

Despite the initial enthusiasm, there will be regular pub goers who will be reticent to join the fray and there will be pub locations that will lose their trade into 2021. In many pubs, it’s a core of regulars that keep them going. Can they be relied on? There’s surely a big question mark over who’s going to hold back amongst consumers in the rest of 2020. As if the lower numbers due to social distancing measures aren’t enough of a problem.

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Who’ll hold back?

Whilst some may say sod it I’m off to assert my god-given right to go to the pub, others may be unwilling to cross the threshold. Those with health conditions and with carer responsibilities may be obvious but there will be others. The lockdown pub alternatives may be the way forward for some. For others, rising unemployment may crush their pub-going spirit.

The Zoom and craft beer at home lifestyle, becoming used to drinking cheaper beer at home, or meeting up in the park may take some shifting as new consumer habits take root. Under the government’s guidance, pubs may no longer offer the social setting pub-goers crave. There are now other routes to drinking that folks see as the new norm. And by the middle of July, family and friends’ back-garden BBQs may be the preferred option.

There will no doubt be more market research going on to look at who is prepared to go back to the pub. In terms of current information, the consumer profile of the post-COVID pub-goers may be very different to what came before. Analysis (1/5/20) by Ipsos MORI reports that 6/10 of us would be uncomfortable in going to pubs and restaurants.

Of course these worries may have eased somewhat over time, but for me the main finding is that the young (36% of 18-34 year olds) are more willing to go back to the pub than the old (22% of 55-75s). If the relative percentages of pub-going concern persist I suspect that’s not good news for cask ale and wet-led pubs.

Which places will lose their trade? 

Off to the match   

In The Athletic online sports paper, Andy Mitten looks at the problems of the pandemic for the match-day economy around Old Trafford. In particular the Wetherspoons’ Bishop Blaize pub.

“We’re full to our 600 capacity hours before kick-off,” explains Ben Plunkett, 38, who has managed the Bishop Blaize pub for 11 years…”I just hope that fans can come back to matches as soon as possible. I’m doubtful that will be in 2020, and it’s that uncertainty which worries me most — we just can’t plan.”

It’s not just match-day business for the Blaize, “We’re busy the day before and the day after. Fans start arriving from Ireland or Scandinavia the day before a weekend game and this will be their home from home.

“We’re also packed when there’s a big cricket game or concert at the other Old Trafford over the road…We can also get pretty full before a concert at the Victoria Warehouse.”

Whilst not many have the long-distance pulling power of Manchester United, the loss of the match-day economy will have repercussions for pubs across the UK, particularly if the return for supporters is home fans only. Even in the lower leagues of football, pubs are an important part of the day’s events for home and away fans.

Will TV sport be part of their salvation? Back to the manager of the Bishop Blaize pub…

“Pubs are set to open on July 4. United are at home (to Bournemouth) that day and it could be perfect for us.”

For many pub owners their social distancing plans may well be challenged if they push the opportunity to watch matches in the pub. The scientists will be concerned about the consequences and the police will be very wary of groups gathering near football grounds.

Time will tell. A few pints of Bass for me at the Stretton Social Club before a match at the Pirelli Stadium seems a long way off.

What’s happened to our students?

Whilst students might not be the big pub spenders they once were, I fear for some of the pubs in our cities. In places such as Leeds and Sheffield, where the student population has dominated many areas, pubs will surely suffer from the knock-on effect of the move to online teaching. I can see little point in expensive student accommodation if there’s no face-to-face experience at the university. It’s a ‘bad news, good news’ story for parents.

Staying local?

Others have mentioned that punters will make their own decisions as to whether a pub is ‘safe’ and worth a visit in terms of their social offer. Will that lead to people staying local and sticking with the pubs they know?

If so, that’s another nail in the coffin of rural pubs dependent on visitors and the tourist dollar unless they can up their online information and presence. Travelling pub-goers will want to know what to expect when they get to a pub. Given that some operators struggle to provide information on opening hours, it’s going to be a challenge to let visitors know what they can expect in terms of their safety at the pub.

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Will opening in July be the easy bit? I think it’s what comes after that will test many pubs to the limit. I wish them well.

 

11 Comments

  1. In Sheffield the Devonshire Cat will not be reopening. The owners, local Abbeydale Brewery, have put this down to diminishing footfall for many years, and the fact that they didn’t qualify for any help in the lockdown, as described on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/devcat/ (“…rateable value of our city centre venue was too high to benefit from the grants offered…”). A factor not mentioned must have been that a large proportion of their trade came from students and their visiting parents (it’s situated on the ground floor of a block of student flats in the heart of the city).

    On a personal note, I have been looking forward to my next pint of real ale in a pub for more than three months, but the untimely and precipitate manner of this incompetent government’s reopening plan, with what they hitherto deemed essential testing and tracing still absent, gives me no confidence. In fact, just the opposite. If I can find a quiet local pub in the weekday afternoons, fine. But the idea of competing (or queuing) for a booked table in the mayhem that is likely on Satyrday 4th July is enough to get me reaching for a bottle from my well-stocked cupboard under the stairs.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As BeerMat says, a thoughtful analysis, particularly of the impact of loss of football and students.

    It’s certainly the older customer, often the cask drinker, who’s particularly reluctant to return to pubs, possibly until the mythical vaccine is developed, by which time pubs will be decimated.

    I share Sheffield Hatter’s caution, but voyeurism rather than the need for alcohol might see me take a look inside pubs on the 4th.

    I’ll report back.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You are surely right that pubs must expect significantly reduced trade, and any initial rush will quickly dissipate, as it has done with shops. However, better open than shut completely!

    It also underlines the point that much of the trade of pubs is linked to other activities. For most people, going to the pub isn’t a stand-alone leisure activity.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Small steps and all that, but definitely better to open than to shut completely. Whilst I shan’t be queuing up outside any pub, at midday on 4th July, I am planning to return once the crowds have died down a little (or possibly a lot).

    There are a couple of pubs though, that I intend to visit as soon as possible, depending on both work and family commitments. One is a backstreet local that I have been visiting to collect take-away cask, throughout lock-down. The landlord has already shown me the changes he has made to allow as much, socially-distanced, outdoor drinking as possible.

    Another is a country pub I pass most days on my regular lunchtime walks. I look forward to stopping off for a lunchtime pint, w/c 6th July. Again, I will be sitting outside, either at the front of the pub or in the garden – weather permitting.

    There are a few other pubs I have in mind, and this depends largely on how busy they are, or how I feel about them, nearer the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Opening is just the start. Many pubs that were previously profitable will find it difficult to be viable unless lockdown is lifted pretty much completely by September. In other news, I hear that Marstons are running a brew of Bass through tomorrow for the first time since lockdown.

    Like

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