Pubs And Bars Are 'Hibernating' Over Winter Due To Strict Covid Rules

Some venues say theyare staying closed over winter and will attempt to bounce back in the new year.

Pub and restaurant owners are deciding to “hibernate” over winter rather than reopen and face losing more money under the new tier system.

Tier 3 pubs must close their doors and are limited to takeaway only. In tier 2, they can only serve alcohol if it is accompanied by a “substantial meal”.

In tier 1, pubs can stay open with no requirement to serve food, but only around 1% of England’s population falls under this tier.

The Tollington, a wet-led pub in north London announced it would be staying closed “until London is dropped into tier 1 or the regulations are relaxed further”, saying: “The decision has been taken out of our hands.”

Owner Martin told HuffPost UK he would not even stay open for takeaways, because: “To be quite honest with you, on every street corner in Islington you’ve got an off-licence. Number one, we are not geared up to be run as off-licences. Number two, you’ve got a problem because the brewers are not really brewing beer.

“They got stung in the summer with millions of pints being thrown down the drain. We had to throw maybe £40,000 of beer away. With the most recent lockdown we were a little wiser and kept our stocks down lower.”

Located close to the Arsenal football stadium, the Tollington would ordinarily serve around 2,000 on an average match day. When it has been able to reopen briefly under new social-distancing regulations it has been able to seat around 80 people, which Whelan says: “Does not pay the rent.”

Whelan, who owns three pubs in north London, will be “hibernating” his venues for the winter. He added: “You’ve got to write this year off. If a vaccine came available, if we’re all able to get back and say ‘this nightmare is over’ and start back from 1 April, that would be be glorious.”

Bolton bar owner John Wray told the Bolton News: “We almost feel as if we are in hibernation, I don’t think we will be able to reopen before March next year.

“Usually we would be having Christmas parties and events throughout December, and Boxing Day is one of our busiest days.”

But he added: “I am remaining optimistic and hopeful things will get back on track in the spring.”

Earlier this week, Plaid Cymru Leader Adam Price suggested hospitality should be able to retire over winter and bounce back in the new year with higher financial support. Addressing the Welsh government, Price said the “crippling uncertainty” that accompanied locking and unlocking venues was doing “untold damage” to the industry.

Closed bars and restaurants and empty streets on a Saturday night in Soho, London, during the coronavirus pandemic (file picture)
Closed bars and restaurants and empty streets on a Saturday night in Soho, London, during the coronavirus pandemic (file picture)
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Jonathan Neame, chief executive of the Shepherd Neame pub group, says the latest restrictions are devastating during what is an “absolutely critical month”.

He told HuffPost: “There seems to be this view in government that you can just flick a switch and turn a key and the pub is open. You’ve got to get the beer, you’ve got to get the food, you’ve got to unfurlough your staff. There’s an awful lot to do in preparation to reopening a pub.

“And so, if you’re told, well you can open, you may not open at all because you may not be able to get hold of beer and if you go further up the supply chain, there’s no guarantee that brewers can assess what the demand is going to be, higher or lower.

“What’s going on now is this huge charade to give a little bit of Christmas and the reality is we will probably be in lockdown again in January. This is just a crazy situation, absolutely crazy.”

One tapas restaurant group, with locations in Wales and Bristol, has also announced it is opting out for now.

Owen Morgan of Forty Four Group wrote: “We need to be here on the other side. With Covid continuing to force new and increasingly difficult trading restrictions upon us, the only correct option for us is to go back into hibernation.

“We would be haemorrhaging more money that we don’t even have, if we stayed open. All this at a time when 99% of the hospitality industry is on its knees and on the edge.”

In Wales, JD Wetherspoon has closed the majority of its 46 pubs, while the country’s largest chain SA Brain is closing 100 of its managed properties.

CEO Alistair Darby told The Caterer: “Sadly we will lose less money hibernating the pubs than leaving them open. It’s a terrible decision to make and I’ve had to apologise to staff and customers. Even closed we’re making a loss.”

The prime minister has announced a one-off payment of £1,000 for establishments which are unable to offer food – so-called “wet” pubs, an offer which has been roundly dismissed by the industry as an “insult.”

Neame said: “It’s absolutely insulting. That won’t even cover the Christmas decorations.”

Simon Emeny, the chief executive of brewers Fuller, Smith and Turner, said it would not be enough to save many of those affected.

“A thousand pounds really doesn’t really go any way to solving the financial Armageddon that many individual and independent operators are going to face,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One.

“The challenge for wet-led pubs is if they don’t sell food they will find it impossible to operate, but you have still got bills to pay.

“They have still got to pay potentially rent, insurance costs, national insurance and the apprenticeship levy. That is far more than £1,000.”

The British Beer & Pub Association said that on its own, the sum was “nowhere near enough to stave off thousands of pub closures”.