Wetherspoons prepares to open 750 pubs on July 4 with new coronavirus safety measures

One couple closed their new pub an hour after reopening on the day of the coronavirus lockdown. Another has lost a lot of money but its staff are very excited to finally get back to work. Here are just some reactions from landlords and landladies around Britain as they prepare for July 4 – including the tale of one of the smallest pubs in the country.

Couple who closed new pub just ONE HOUR after reopening on the day of lockdown gear up for a big knees-up 

A couple who were forced to close their new pub just one hour after staging a grand opening on lockdown day are gearing up for a big July 4 knees-up.

Mark and Katie Symes were thrilled when they snapped up the Exeter Arms and splashed out more than £100,000 on refurbishments.

They spent weeks getting their dream pub in pretty Barrowden, Rutland, ready and held a grand opening on March 20.

Mark and Katie Symes, pictured yesterday at the Exeter Arms in Barrowden, Rutland

But just one hour after serving locals their first pints, Boris Johnson announced that all pubs and restaurants would close due to coronavirus.

The distraught couple feared their new venture would collapse, but they have spent the last three months working to reopen for customers while following social distancing rules.

Mr Symes, 56, said: ‘We opened our doors at 5pm and at 6pm news came through that Boris Johnson was closing pubs – it was surreal.

‘There was almost a rivalry between a few of them to be the first to get a pint out of the new pub, which was lovely.

‘The villagers had only just bought their first pints when we had to tell them the pub was closing.

‘They’d already waited months for the pub to reopen, it was pretty emotional and my wife and I were devastated.

‘We’re absolutely delighted at the word coming out that pubs will open again on July 4.

Katie and Mark Symes (right) with Rachel, the bar manager; Nigel, the head chef; and Dan, their son and pub butcher

Katie and Mark Symes (right) with Rachel, the bar manager; Nigel, the head chef; and Dan, their son and pub butcher

‘We were the last people to open before lockdown and I want to make sure I’m one of the first to come out of lockdown mode and start trading.

‘If we can enjoy the summer trade then we can hopefully make up for the losses during lockdown.’

Mr Symes and his wife, 50, bought the historic pub in January and spent thousands on a makeover.

Mr Symes said: ‘We refurbished the whole of the inside as the business was quite a tired, outdated pub in a beautiful location.

‘We spent over six figures on the inside, getting it looking absolutely fantastic.

‘We had new stone flooring, a new bar, new furniture. Everything was completely refitted.’

But their dream of owning and running their own pub threatened to turn into a nightmare when coronavirus spread to the UK.

Father-of-one Mr Symes said: ‘In the early part of March, we could see on the news things were escalating and getting worse.

The pub in Barrowden, Rutland, is pictured after the £100,000 renovation

The pub in Barrowden, Rutland, is pictured after the £100,000 renovation

‘In Ireland, they shut pubs about 10 days before the UK did.

‘I said to my wife ‘I would have thought that would have been the last country in the world to shut pubs so we’re probably going to be next.’

‘I thought, ‘Crikey. What do we do?’ We were going to have no income, just laid out all our capital, what are we going to do. It was pretty distressing.

‘Since the lockdown, we’ve explored lots of different ways we can open the pub again while keeping customers and staff safe.

The couple have been running a takeaway food service including pie night, curry night and fish and chip Friday’s as well as a Sunday roast service.

They also delivered meals to elderly residents who were self-isolating and supplied the village shop with food when they ran out.

Support from locals has meant the couple have been able to operate the pub’s takeaway service while they work to adjust to social distancing guidelines for the reopening.

The pub is seen before the renovation which cost £100,000 to complete

The pub is seen before the renovation which cost £100,000 to complete

In readiness for an expected July 4 reopening, the couple have used a £40,000 Bounce Back Loan to kit out their beer garden with new furniture and expanding the pathways.

Mr Symes added: ‘We’re blessed with a huge beautiful open garden space in the back of the pub, so when we’re allowed to open our gardens, it will be a great advantage.

‘There’s no protection from the elements so we’re building a full outdoor kitchen, an outdoor bar with a pergola off the back, patio heaters suspended from the ceilings and lovely raised flower beds to give windbreaks.

‘We have bought five big tents that can be put up in the garden, where we can put some tables and chairs inside so people can have a private dining family area.

‘A large number of people are scared to death out there and I can understand that they’re going to be worried about coming into the hospitality area.

‘Our garden is the best opportunity for us to be able to mitigate against that loss of internal turnover, if we can create outside safe dining spaces and drinking spaces.

‘A lot of the brewers recalled their stock, but before they recalled it, I was able to secure more than 40 barrels that have best by dates running through to the end of August.

‘So we took the gamble that we’d be able to trade in the garden by then. I made sure I’ve got stock already on the premises now so when we are able to open the doors.

‘No doubt there will be an initial surge from big supporters of pubs who will want to be getting a few pints.

‘We can’t wait to reopen, it’s going to be a big night for everyone.’ 

Owners of King Henry’s Taverns in the Midlands: ‘Our staff can’t wait to get back to work… but we have lost a lot of money because of lockdown’ 

King Henry’s Taverns is a group of six freehold freehouses in The Midlands. We employ around 150 staff with live-in managers in each pub. 

When the pubs were told to shut, we offered a non-contact Corner Shop service to the local villagers which was gratefully received. We could get flour and loo roll when the supermarkets couldn’t.

Towards the end of May, we decided to pause the Corner Shop concept so we could concentrate on doing the necessary work required to ensure our customers and staff would be safe when we re-opened.

KIng Henry's Taverns includes The Old Smithy, owned by Phil Weaver (above), in Warwickshire. The pubs have found it hard to obtain PPE - but managed it

KIng Henry’s Taverns includes The Old Smithy, owned by Phil Weaver (above), in Warwickshire. The pubs have found it hard to obtain PPE – but managed it

We kept in contact with our staff with regular newsletters and they all completed various courses online while being on furlough including a course called Prevent Covid-19, which all staff have to complete before they are allowed back to work.

It has been frustrating not having any guidance so we have researched what other countries had put in place to stay safe when they opened up. 

It has been a real struggle buying sanitiser, masks, gloves, tape. Also the prices have been extortionate. PPE has been difficult to obtain but we have managed it.

We are offering customers the option of 2m or 1m distancing. I haven’t heard of anyone else doing this. 

It is surprising to note that for a third of the bookings taken for all the pubs so far, customers have asked to be seated in the 2m area in the marquee – while in our larger pubs, we are setting aside areas with the tables at 2m. 

There are still a lot of people who are very wary and our aim is to make customers and staff feel as safe and relaxed as possible.

With regard to our suppliers, they have all been fantastic! Really understanding. It’s now a race to get supplies in ready for the 4th of July.

We are really excited to be allowed to open again and our staff can’t wait to get back to work. 

We have however lost a lot of money by not being open over this period, especially as the weather has been so lovely. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and time to recover. We’ve been going for 35 years and we’re going to be going for another 35 years at least!

The new measures we have put in place are as follows:

· Health questionnaire for all staff on arrival – along with a temperature check.

· A talk from the manager on first shift back regarding safe distancing and managing risk.

· Face masks available if required by staff or are made mandatory by law.

· Disposable hand towels – and sanitiser stations at all entrances.

· Antibacterial soap, hand-washing posters, safe distancing tape and posters.

· An order and pay app so customers do not have to come to the bar, which cost a small fortune.

· If people do not have the app, orders will be taken at the table at a safe distance and customers encouraged to pay by contactless card.

· Table service with safe distancing where possible; Tables placed with 1m gaps indoors and each pub has a marquee with tables placed with 2m gaps – and Perspex screens on the bars by tills.

· Taking table bookings in order to restrict the number of customers in the building or the gardens at one time. ​Names and phone numbers stored at head office for track and trace purposes. Walk-in customers will also be allocated a table and name and phone number taken.

‘It’s a massive relief… and can’t wait until July 4 as I haven’t had a pint of Guinness since St Patrick’s Day!’: Tony Bennett, of The Devereux pub in Temple, London

Tony Bennett said he was massively relieved to be able to reopen his pub, The Devereux. 

We’re a small independent pub and only opened a year ago. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people bemoaning the ongoing restrictions and guidelines – but we’re just happy to open our doors again. 

Tony Bennett (pictured) said he was massively relieved to be able to reopen his pub, The Devereux, in Temple, London

Tony Bennett (pictured) said he was massively relieved to be able to reopen his pub, The Devereux, in Temple, London

Obviously, the safety of our staff and customers will be paramount but I think it’s a big move back to normality and something we all need.

And personally, I haven’t had a pint of Guinness since Paddy’s day so I can’t wait until the fourth!    

Landlady of Sheffield’s Kelham Island Tavern: ‘I’ve got a week to sort out everything – from sourcing beer to training staff for a new world of table service’

Landlords say they will be poring over the Government’s guidelines to work out exactly how they will have to adapt their pubs and still survive in the new post-lockdown world.

Louise Singleton, landlady of Sheffield’s Kelham Island Tavern, says she has got a little over a week to work out everything from sourcing her beer to training her staff for a whole new world of table service, one-way systems and spaced-out tables.

The pub, which is the only one in the UK to have been named the Campaign for Real Ale’s National Pub of the Year two years running, will reopen on July 4 now the Government has confirmed the new one-metre-plus social distancing rule, Ms Singleton said.

Louise Singleton, landlady of Sheffield's Kelham Island Tavern, says she has got a little over a week to work out everything from sourcing her beer to training her staff for a whole new world of table service, one-way systems and spaced-out tables

Louise Singleton, landlady of Sheffield’s Kelham Island Tavern, says she has got a little over a week to work out everything from sourcing her beer to training her staff for a whole new world of table service, one-way systems and spaced-out tables

Now she says she had a week of tough decisions to make, including everything from whether to install screens to how to encourage elderly customers not to sit nursing a half pint all night when customer numbers will be so limited.

Ms Singleton, who has run the award-winning pub with partner Josh Jepson since 2018, said it will be extremely tight financially and very difficult to sustain as a business if the new guidelines are still in place by Christmas.

But she said she is looking forward to seeing many regulars, some of whom have been returning to take advantage of the Kelham Island’s lockdown take-out service.

Ms Singleton said it has been difficult to plan for reopening until the government made some firm announcements and she will still need to see the detail of the new guidelines.

She said: ‘Up to this point we’ve refused to do anything because we don’t want to invest money in something until we actually have it in black-and-white what it is.

‘I have got a little bit set aside in order to do this – screens, PPE, etc. PPE itself is so expensive and it’s meant to be single use.’

Ms Singleton (pictured), who has run the award-winning pub with partner Josh Jepson since 2018, said it will be extremely tight financially and very difficult to sustain as a business if the new guidelines are still in place by Christmas

Ms Singleton (pictured), who has run the award-winning pub with partner Josh Jepson since 2018, said it will be extremely tight financially and very difficult to sustain as a business if the new guidelines are still in place by Christmas

The landlady said she felt the government had mainly listened just to the bigger chains, leaving independent pubs like hers trying to figure out how all the new measures will work in a 170-year-old building with its multiple small rooms and tight corridors.

‘People like us who are independent, we don’t seem to have a voice, we don’t seem to be being heard and it doesn’t seem like people are paying attention,’ she said.

‘Our weekly running cost to be closed are really, really high. When you add on top of it everything else when we open, it’s going to be really tough for us to survive.’

Ms Singleton said: ‘We’re not going to have the turnover this year that we had last year but, if we get to Christmas and we can’t have the turnover at Christmas, that’s when we’re really going to struggle.

‘It’s the money we need to bank to sustain going forward.’

The pub was closed completely when the lockdown began, with the nine staff placed on furlough, opening up for takeaways once it looked like the peak was over and the NHS was coping.

Ms Singleton was talking in the sunny beer garden which used to hold around 50 paying customers but would have had to be reduced to just two if the Government had maintained the two metre rule.

She now thinks that, under the one metre plus guidance, they can fit 25 in the garden.

And Mrs Singleton is not convinced table service is necessarily the right way forward in a tight pub when the bar forms natural barrier between staff and customers.

‘If they came to the bar, there’s naturally a metre gap between you and the customers. It’s naturally there… it’s called a bar.’

She said she thought staff moving from table to table rather than isolated behind a bar might be more of a hazard to customers.

‘They’re having to go a lot closer to the customers than what they would do if we could carry on as a traditional pub,’ she said.

But Ms Singleton said: ‘People are missing each other and, when we do get people in that we haven’t seen in a while, it’s so lovely to see them.

‘But we find it very difficult because we’ve obviously got a customer waiting outside so we feel we can’t be as personable as we really want to be and catch up with these people we haven’t seen and do miss.’

She said she feared for many pubs, especially once the furlough schemes runs down in September.

One popular Sheffield pub, the Devonshire Cat, has already announced it will not be reopening after the lockdown.

… and spare a thought for one of the country’s smallest pubs – The Nutshell in Suffolk – whose tiny bar means it can only have TWO customers at a time

It may be good news for thousands of pubs and their thirsty customers but spare a thought for one of Britain’s smallest pubs.

The 150-year-old Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, has just one tiny bar and measures 15ft by just 7ft meaning under the new rules it can only have two customers in at a time.

The Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, has just one tiny bar and measures 15ft by just 7ft meaning under the new rules it can only have two customers in at a time

The Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, has just one tiny bar and measures 15ft by just 7ft meaning under the new rules it can only have two customers in at a time

Landlord Geoff Page said it meant that customers are never that far from staff behind the bar. ‘It’s a unique problem for a unique pub but I am going to ask the council to allow drinkers to stand outside on the pavement.

‘If social distancing had remained at two metres, it would have been impossible to open the pub – it’s good to be opening again but even at one metre we will struggle financially.’

In a 1984 challenge launched by DJ Noel Edmonds, 104 people managed to cram themselves inside the pub, filling it in layers from floor to ceiling.  

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk

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