At last – pubs can reopen on 4th July
Boris Johnson has announced that pubs and beer gardens can reopen on Saturday 4th July. However, there will be strict rules to follow to try to keep customers safe and reduce any risk of a flare up of Covid-19. Customers will need to leave their contact details, no bar service will be allowed (table service only) and the two metre rule can be relaxed to one metre.
So in the words of Sham 69 in 1978 – ‘We’re going down the pub.’
What are the guidelines for the pubs to reopen?
Four weeks ago I sat down to write a piece on what steps might need to be undertaken by pubs if they were to be cleared to re-open. I mused that the 2m social distance rule wouldn’t work. On the whole I was pretty accurate.
So now we know the ‘guidelines’ – not legislation – that will need to be borne in mind. I think that this first point is really important. It gives considerable flexibility to an establishment to introduce processes that work for it, whilst at the same time being mindful of keeping staff and customers as safe as possible.
It is not statutory and so perceived inadequacies would fall to be punished under Health and Safety legislation. No member of staff should be made to work in an unsafe space.
We now have a new measure for social distancing which is still nominally 2m, or 1m with risk mitigation where 2m is not viable. As with all these things, once the genie is out of the bottle it is impossible to put back in. So despite politicians and scientists saying that 2m is still the guidance, in reality that is now gone.
The guidance can be applied to allow a business to operate best practice dependent on its nature, size and type, and how it is organised, operated managed or regulated.
A pre-opening risk assessment is the key. Nothing seems prescribed, so some establishments will be very much more engaged in tis than others. You can envisage some big chains going all out with masks, and cleaning and wiping down and apps and table service, whilst a small back street boozer, may do some or none, or all of these.
Giving your details when pubs reopen
It was heavily touted that you would need to ‘sign in for a pint’. You won’t. A pub is being asked to assist this track and trace service by keeping a temporary record of their customers and visitors for 21 days, in a way that is manageable for the business. Again, some will do this, probably enthusiastically at the start, but we have all been out of a weekend and can anyone honestly see a polite queue forming as people dutifully write down their name and telephone number. I cannot see this running in busier venues for any length of time. The idea is sound as it may help to manage clusters of infection, but I suspect it is more hope than expectation.
At this time, venues should not permit live performances, including drama, comedy and music, to take place in front of a live audience. Interestingly this seems to be about avoiding droplet spreading. It doesn’t mention stopping lots of football fans watching the remaining games in the season, in the pub, all shouting and cheering and swearing. It seems the live performance is an easily identifiable target.
Pubs working together to reopen
Businesses are also being encouraged not to exist in isolation but to consider how they contribute to the cumulative impact of many venues re-opening in a small area. This means that local authorities may monitor gathering points and impose local restrictions. These could include :- Staggering entry times with other venues and taking steps to avoid queues building up in surrounding areas; arranging one-way travel routes between transport hubs and venues: using public service announcements on transport to advise of busy areas to avoid.
How will you order?
Pubs are social hubs but interaction between staff and customers will need to be kept to a minimum. Indoor table service must be used where possible. How a venue decides what is possible will be up to the proprietor. Where one person is working because it is nonviable to rota on two people, could it be permissible to put a drink on the bar and have the customer collect and pay and take away. It would seem under these guidelines it may.
The use of phone apps was heavily touted, but this doesn’t appear as a guideline. Some larger operators will utilise this route, but it would need a lot of time invested in uploading every drink, and so as it is not mandated, I see little widespread uptake.
Will pubs reopen?
In short, the Landlords that I have spoken to are pleasantly surprised at how little has been mandated and how much left to their own discretion. Some will approach July 4 with gusto, and other will wait until after the weekend, to open with a softer launch.
Steve Thatcher is a non-practising solicitor of 25 years’ experience He is an ex-publican and personal licence holder. He currently practices as a business rescue and insolvency professional with F A Simms & Partners .
Steve works directly with numerous businesses in the hospitality and retail sector and has first-hand experience of how COVID19 is affecting them.