The stop-start nature of lockdowns will do more damage to our pub in the long run
It’s not like you can just turn the lights off and walk out the door every time you are asked to close. It costs money to do so and more money to re-open again, writes Kieran Lyons. | PA Images
Leaving national lockdown to enter strict tier 3 restrictions over Christmas and New Year, it’s clear we will not be making any money, but I hope we can tread water.
With the benefit of hindsight, it would be easy to have a good moan about everything that’s happened this year, so that is what I will do. I know hindsight is a luxury you do not have when making decisions during a crisis but I think we can all agree that things could have gone better.
The week before the first lockdown in March sales at my pub, The Blue Boar in Leicester, slowed to a trickle as people were advised to stay at home. But on the Friday of the announcement, we were packed out and the pub had a strange kind of new-years-eve atmosphere.
The Blue Boar is a multi-tap freehouse specialising in cask ale, meaning we were left with a lot of perishable stock. Without the emergency change in law allowing us to offer deliveries, we would have been stuck pouring beer down the drain and only reclaiming the duty – which admittedly is a hell of a lot of money. Too much, some would say.
Starting up a delivery service was challenging, but the response from our customers was encouraging. Although we may have made some new loyal regulars, we’ve not had a fair crack at doing for them what we do best: providing hospitality. A lot of our regulars do not have a social life outside the pub, so we are a lifeline for them. One local said he was so desperate for company he was even considering going to church at Christmas. It’s certainly renewed my faith in what we do and bought back what I have known all along, but somehow forgot during the hard slog of running a busy boozer. Pubs are indispensable and that makes it all worth it.
Eat Out to Help Out did not help us at all since we do not serve food. In fact, it damaged us as we were quieter due to people spending their money elsewhere. I would have liked government to help with off-sales of alcohol from wet-only pubs, but accept this would have been politically very brave. Unfortunately, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme has also contributed to the second national lockdown we are now in – at what would be our busiest time of year.
Financial support from the government has been very welcome, and while I like to think we would have survived without it, I cannot say for sure
I didn't mind not knowing when restrictions would ease in Leicester during the summer, but I do object to not being told what would be needed for them to be lifted. The government’s communication on this was not great. Tweeting policy decisions is not very professional.
The 10pm curfew had the opposite effect of what was intended. It was likely thought up by someone with no knowledge of the trade or basic human behaviour. Pubs across the country should not have been allowed to re-open at all until infection rates were near zero. The stop-start nature of lockdowns will be more damaging to our business in the long run. It’s not like you can just turn the lights off and walk out the door every time you are asked to close. It costs money to do so and more money to re-open again.
Incidentally, we missed out on the local lockdown grant money specific to Leicester, just because we didn’t know about it. Other financial support from the government has been very welcome, and while I like to think we would have survived without it, I cannot say for sure. Still, I am not used to asking for handouts.
Our year-on year takings from April onwards are down by around 80%. Looking ahead to Christmas and New Year it’s clear we will not be making any money, but I hope we can tread water.
We wanted to open as a bottle shop during December, but the new restrictions mean we still cannot let anyone onto the premises. This rankles a bit, since in all tiers shops are allowed to open – but we cannot.
Never has a year been so challenging, but it will take more than a pandemic to knock the joy out of this job for me.
Kieran Lyons is the co-owner of The Blue Boar pub in Leicester.