When the Prime Minister announced that pubs and restaurants can re-open from 4 July, providing they can remain COVID safe, it was a relief to pub owners and punters across the country. The announcement also created a rush from hospitality sector businesses to prepare for a swift re-opening. We spoke to Tanya Rhodes of Aldborough’s The Ship Inn and Cally Trott of The Chequers Inn, who shared their advice and experience to pub owners, of re-opening following lockdown, including cost, how to record the details of guests, and how to keep your pub COVID safe.
Tanya: As soon as possible, 4th July.
Cally: We opened on the 4th July.
Tanya: We believe it to be best for business to open at the earliest date possible in anticipation of a busy weekend.
Cally: As soon as Boris announced the pubs would be opening again, it was all hands on deck to get the two pubs and one restaurant ready for the 4th. We are a family run business, so our lives really do revolve around the pub – it’s what we love doing! We were very keen to get back into the business.
Tanya: We have abided by all government advice and had somebody in to check the relevant risk assessments.
Cally: We thoroughly read and re-read the government guideline. We implemented everything we read in the best way we felt we could. Some examples are that we brought thermoscanners to test temperatures at the beginning of shifts, we invested in setting up three apps so customers can order from their tables, we brought more outdoor tables. We also made sure that all our staff who we were able to bring back had been fully trained and we detailed a risk assessment for them to follow to reduce the chance of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Tanya: We have had to remove some furniture and install several safety measures. For example, installing plastic screening, hand sanitizing stations throughout the pub and re-opening sealed windows to allow air flow throughout the building. Staff have had to adapt by learning new cleaning and hygiene procedures, changing the style of service to the customers by keeping their distance and learning new ways of handling and giving out cutlery, sauces, drinks etc.
Cally: Our staff have been brilliant. In less that two weeks, we’ve completely changed the way service is. Card payments are the norm, we don’t lay up our tables before guests arrive anymore, stricter cleaning rotas have been put in place and we’ve all had to get our head around programming and using the app. They’ve all coped so well and are working harder than ever.
Cally: Our staff are all being very conscious to socially distance. Although the recommended distance is now 1 metre on the Isle of Wight, we still try and keep 2 metres. When taking food out, our staff are offered a face mask (we do not force them to wear it), we also ask at the table if the customer would be happier if we wore a facemask whilst we interact with them.
Tanya: Thousands of pounds out of our own pockets.
It took months to attempt to get prepared (without any guidelines) but, in reality we only had 1 week. I would advise other restaurants to put aside at least 4 weeks to prepare, unfortunately, we only got the guidelines 1 week in advance and still they changed every day up until and even on opening day.
Cally: We haven’t sat down and costed it all yet – but we can definitely tell you that it has taken a very large chunk of money, which alongside the three months of lost profit has made the last few months very scary for everyone in this trade.
From the day we shut I have been brainstorming ideas for how to reopen or how to think outside the box and keep the business ticking. So, it’s been almost three-months of thinking and planning. But the final three months were where decisions were made, and preparation really began. This was three weeks of back-to-back 5am starts and late-night finishes to get all three locations ready.
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Tanya: Lack of knowledge, no guidelines from the government until last minute, we had no income for ourselves let alone to pay for any updates we had to make to the building and the not knowing when we could open was torture, especially as it was costing us over £1000 a week just to be closed.
Cally: Lack of knowledge until the final two weeks before opening was hard. We have ideas that we could not proceed with or invest in, in case the government decided they would restrict capacity, no indoor seating etc.
Tanya: No, we have been able to open the whole premises.
Cally: Indoor playroom.
Tanya: Yes, we have had to remove some tables and chairs in order to space out the remaining ones and also print off some signs that state ‘temporarily out of use’ for chairs and tables in case we feel it is going to be overcrowded. It has very much limited the number of people we can seat inside.
Cally: We are lucky that our two pubs are large and have beer gardens. We never crammed the pubs full of tables anyway, so we have just had to take a few tables from each place. We have given more than 2 metres in between each table, just to be safe. Whereas, in our restaurant, we have no outdoor area and less indoor seating, so we have had to take many tables out to ensure a safe distance.
Tanya: Stationed at the front door we have provided short forms to be filled in and posted into a box, information is then collected at the end of each day for safekeeping, which will be disposed of after 21 days. We also keep a record of names and telephone numbers for customers who have booked to eat with us.
Cally: Working with the company that designed our apps and our till systems, we have installed software on our till systems that prompt our staff to request the contact details of the customers. This is then logged onto our secure back office, which we are working on setting up an automatic wipe every 21 days – but now we can manually remove this data when no longer required.
Tanya: We have plenty of signs up around the building, visible toilet checklists which are carried out every 30 minutes, signed and dated documents stating what we have done to ensure that we are COVID safe.
Cally: Upon entering we always just politely request that members of the public respect the government guidelines and always give them the opportunity to ask questions about what and why we are doing certain things. This seems to work well as they understand we are not trying to restrict them but trying to keep them safe!
Tanya: Obviously it limits the number of people we can serve for food and drink. We will be taking a big loss on the number of customers we have visiting us, however, with all the rules in place it is hard to cut down on staff so it’s going to be hard work to continue to turn a profit. Fewer people will be coming out and due to customers not being able to drink at the bar and mingle it’s going to impact that country pub atmosphere we’re so well known for.
Cally: We have noticed a dip in trade, which we expected. We believe people are still easing to the idea of coming indoors, which we understand. There are also many people who worry the fun will be taken out the pub and that it will be clinical, but we have made sure we’re doing everything to keep people safe, but also keep it relaxed and fun. Trade is gradually building again, but in comparison to last year’s trade in July, there is a very noticeable difference.
Tanya: Do your best with the guidelines you are given, take your time to read through and plan accordingly. Most importantly try to create a similar atmosphere to before but also provide reassurances of being ‘COVID safe’ so that customers feel comfortable to return.
Cally: Plan for every possibility and try to build a good regular custom base (loyalty cards ect.). Be relaxed and your customers will be too – they understand they need to use hand sanitiser and they need to keep their distance and may just need gentle reminds, such as posters and a small mention when you welcome them in. If they have entered your pub, they already trust that you’re doing your best to prevent any spread of COVID-19. People always came to the pub for a good time, so make sure that is still the case when they return.
The Ship Inn is a child-friendly, and dog-friendly pub based in Aldborough, North Yorkshire. Visit their website to see their full menu and opening hours.
The Chequers Inn is a family-run pub based in the Isle of Wight. Visit their website to see what they have to offer.