Extra restrictions kill the swift pint option…

Many times over the past couple of weeks at the end of the day I’ve thought about popping out to the pub for a quick pint while I read the paper. But I’ve then changed my mind and instead cracked open a can of beer or poured a glass of wine at home.

Once lock-down ended, I reckon I was more excited than the majority of people at the ability to again simply go for a drink in a convivial atmosphere that wasn’t my own garden or house.

But what has transpired has not been particularly appealing because of the growing number of steps you have to go through before you get to the point of having a glass in your hand. When I first ventured out to my local pub, table service was being strictly enforced and the advice was to book ahead. Wandering in randomly was OK at quieter times but problematic at other periods. 

The good old days

I took the option to instead frequent a pub a little further away because the radicals down there allowed orders to be made at the bar – with social distancing in place. This enabled a brief bit of banter with the person serving. I’d then have to take a seat but at least it seemed closer to the old pub experience. 

This sadly came to an end when table service was enforced nationally. The result of this change became all too apparent when I found myself, one early evening, in Kentish Town. Even at the largest of pubs there were (albeit modest) queues while people waited to be allocated tables and fiddled around with their phones scanning QR codes. Once seated, the orders then have to be taken and the wait begins for the beer. If you are only intending to pop in briefly then already the appeal has completely gone out the window.

Yes, I might be impatient, and yes I know table service is par for the course in many other countries. But I’d argue they are very much geared up to this in terms of service and also their customers are used to this method of operation. Also the economic model has been built around it. At my local pub, sales levels had rather healthily increased by 50% quickly after lock-down but I understand staff numbers had doubled in order to deal with the extra effort of table service. This suggests a lot more work for the same levels of profitability.

But when you then throw in the 10pm curfew, the situation becomes dire for businesses and customers. After its introduction, like-for-like sales fell 21.2% compared with the week before it was brought in. With this, food fell 19.1% while drinks declined 23.2%, according to S4labour. 

I’m clearly not alone in finding the creep of extra restrictions limiting the appetite for socialising. According to a CGA Consumer Pulse Survey conducted on 22 September, two in five (40%) of people stated they would go out less often as a result of the measures. This compares with a much more modest 14% who intend to go out more often.

This chimes with the findings of early surveys where the most successful venues were those that managed to successfully balance the provision of safety procedures with the retention of elements of normality. This was the case with intelligent operators such as Hawksmoor, Corbin & King and D&D.

At the time of Eat Out To Help Out, Des Gunewardena, chief executive of D&D, stated: “Our restaurants have all followed covid-19 safety guidelines provided by the government, industry bodies and safety consultants, and our customers have given us unequivocally positive feedback they feel safe in our venues and our procedures are not detrimental to their dining experience.”

With the extra restrictions that have since been imposed, things have changed. The experience of going out is becoming increasingly affected and D&D like every other hospitality company will be feeling the painful impact. Despite my own strong desire to socialise and support the hospitality industry the once simple act of going out – especially the off-the-cuff variety – has rather sadly become anything but a straightforward exercise.

Glynn Davis, editor of Retail Insider 

This piece was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece. Retail Insider would like to thank Propel for allowing the reproduction of this column.