Under the ‘outdoor only’ trading restrictions in April, it was just not viable for many outlets to open, with industry estimates suggesting that around 50 per cent of pubs opened (much lower in terms of restaurants).
This was certainly reflected in the Timothy Taylor’s pub estate. Of our 19 outlets, only nine felt able to trade under the ‘outdoor restrictions’ yet all but one are open for business this week with trading now allowed inside.
While a welcome step, it is vital that we all, and especially the Government, recognise that this is just one step on the route to survival for these outlets given the impact that Covid has had on their ability to open and trade during the past year.
This week pubs will continue to be hampered by restrictions such as social distancing, table service only and the rule of six.
According to the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), this will lead to five per cent of pubs (2,000 outlets) remaining shut and those that open trading at about 65 per cent of normal, well below the break-even point for most outlets.
This goes to the very heart of the economics of this important sector. These are small businesses, often run by a husband and wife or a couple of friends. Like any business, they are not viable when incurring virtually all the costs of being open but with a fraction of the turnover associated with ‘normal’ times.
I am constantly amazed that I still come across people who think that if a pub or restaurant is doing 80 per cent of their usual turnover, they must be earning 80 per cent of their normal profits. Afraid not. That missing 20 per cent, even 10 per cent, of turnover is the profit, and without it the viability of the business and the livelihood for the publican is one.
So, as well as your custom, what does our industry need from government? That all steps necessary continue to be taken to ensure restriction free trading from June 21.
This means continuing the strong vaccination programme and an effective test and trace system to ensure our sector is not subject to a further – and what I fear will be catastrophic – lockdown.
That Ministers stop demonising our industry and be fact-based in their approach. Many pubs play a vital role in their communities in promoting responsible drinking, socialisation and combating loneliness. Most have worked hard to be Covid secure.
So, it makes operators angry when the Government implements curfews with no evidence. While the assistance the industry has received during the pandemic has been most welcome, it seems ironic that in the same breath extra costs and red tape are being placed on our sector.
You may be surprised to read that the Department of Health and Social Care has just announced that the Government intends to introduce calorie labelling on menus and food labels in out-of-home food businesses (including pubs and restaurants) from April 2022 with information needed to be displayed “at the point of choice for the customer, such as physical menus, online menus, food delivery platforms and food labels”.
Why am I so concerned about the sector? Besides the fact that Timothy Taylor’s depends upon pubs to serve the real ales for which we are famous, it goes back to my discovery of the British pub when I first came here from America to study in 1978.
It is something truly unique and it struck me as a very different and welcoming experience compared to the American ‘bar culture’ that I was used to. Pubs play such a central role in their communities and they are also vital to the UK’s attraction as a tourist destination.
A few years ago, when my brother came to visit us from the States, literally the first thing that he and his wife wanted to do was to meet my wife and me in a pub where we could sit down, have a pint and catch up.
I appreciate that against the significant deaths and illnesses caused by Covid talking about pubs and socialisation might seem trivial or insensitive to some, but I also think that in these challenging times we all need to see some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.
Surely getting back to the pub and enjoying the company of friends and family, whether to celebrate or commiserate or just enjoying being in the company of strangers, is absolutely vital to this?
Given the events of the past year, we cannot take pubs for granted. The Government cannot take pubs for granted. To quote Joni Mitchell: “You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone.”
Tim Dewey is chief executive of Yorkshire brewers Timothy Taylor & Co Ltd.
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