Halving the 2-metre social distancing rule will turn running his pub from a “hobby” to a viable business, said Giles Shepherd, who bought the Laburnum Inn in Matlock, Derbyshire, six years ago.
This week, the strict rules on distancing which require people to stay 2 metres apart when they are out and about or at work are expected to be changed, in a move which will be welcomed by the hospitality industry.
Many pubs and restaurants were forced to shut down completely in March, and have been struggling to work out how to accommodate customers when they are allowed to reopen from 4 July.
Shepherd is amongst the many business owners who are planning to reopen when the lockdown restrictions on pubs and restaurants are relaxed, and said any changes to physical distancing rules will make a huge difference to his income.
While the pub is lucky enough to have a garden and car park to fill, the real difficulty will be indoor seating, he said, especially if the weather turns bad. With the 2-metre rule in place, Shepherd expects to be able to fit just eight to 12 patrons inside. That figure jumps to 60 if the distance is cut in half.
“We’re looking to do all sorts of things in terms of gazebos and where we can put up shelters or whatever, but a change to a 1-metre rule definitely makes the pub a more viable operation in the short term,” Shepherd said. “It goes from being a hobby that we cling to to being a viable business.”
Ben Squire runs passenger ferries and a cafe in Plymouth and was just about to open a seafood restaurant, the Hook & Line, when lockdown started. Instead of a grand opening, he started offering takeaways a few weeks ago. He said a change in the rules would be “make or break” for businesses like his. “We can have about 80 customers without social distancing, so at 2 metres we were looking at about 20. The margins are tight anyway.”
He added: “If it does go to 1 metre, there’s a little bit of life in that, we are in with a good chance, so I am hoping that happens.”
Stephen Turvil, who owns the Herne Tavern in East Dulwich, London, said the change from a 2-metre rule to 1-metre distancing would make “a huge difference – that will return us almost to normal capacity”. His pub also has a large garden. “If the 2-metre rule stays, we’ll have to get rid of half of the tables in the garden, but if it’s 1 metre we will be OK.”
The pub has been closed during lockdown, and he has taken the opportunity to get the floors redecorated. “All of the table and chairs are currently stacked up and I am reluctant to put them back out until we have clear guidelines,” he said.
The pub is set to reopen on 4 July, and will operate table service with staff taking orders and bringing drinks from the bar, and a limited food menu. In the men’s toilets, the middle urinal will be taped off. Changes to physical distancing rules won’t make any difference to those plans, he says.
Turvil says he has still not had any clear communication about the rules. And he has concerns about the day that has been chosen for reopening. “I would much rather it wasn’t a Saturday – I think there will be teething problems, so I think they should put it back, maybe to the Wednesday afterwards. We could wait and reopen later, but I worry that would give our competitors an advantage.”