As the UK moves out of lockdown and a regional tier system is introduced, pubs in tier two are forced into a difficult middle ground, and the question arises are they better off closed?
From 2nd December, pubs in all but three council areas will either be closed or only able to open if they are serving substantial meals, the government announced on Thursday.
The government’s winter plan defines a substantial meal as “a full breakfast, main lunchtime or evening meal”.
For tier two, the news will be of little comfort to ‘wet led’ pubs, which are forced to remain closed and for those who do serve food, the restriction places them in a challenging position, in which they can open but are only able to make a fraction of their sales.
In a letter to the government, executives of 50 companies including Fuller’s, Carlsberg UK, Greene King and Heineken warned of huge job losses as a result of “exceptionally harsh and unjustified treatment”.
They wrote: “We believe it is in the interests of openness and transparency that any evidence showing pubs to be the source of outbreaks of the virus, and thereby justifying these extra restrictions, must be published immediately.”
On Yougov, the government guidance justifies the tier system by stating: “It is right to apply tighter restrictions where prevalence is highest.” However, those in tier two are left questioning the logic of only being able to sell alcohol alongside a ‘substantial meal’.
What do pub workers say?
For example, Lucy Crockett, 22, a bartender from St Albans, told Westminster world: “The place I work is a cocktail bar and not a functioning restaurant so I’m unsure how we will be able to serve a substantial meal. The government has made no indication as to why the inclusion of a meal makes a difference, nor why it makes any sense. A little transparency would go a long way for small businesses to understand why the government is implementing this rule. Instead, we’re left to conspire and guess like the rest of the public.”
Paul Egerton, 53, the owner of a pub in St Albans told Westminster World: “The government has supplied a lot of help for pubs, but the industry does feel the government is not following the evidence. If the tier system continues to March it will have a major effect and a lot of pubs will close.”
He added that for his pub, tier two is likely to cause a drop of “75% in like for like sales”.
With Christmas being an extremely busy time of year for the pub industry these sales are more important than ever, and Lucy commented: “For my bar in particular, with these rules, I feel we would be better off closed.”
What evidence are the rules based on?
It’s difficult to find specific scientific evidence supporting the substantial meal rule but the logic seems to be based on the impact drinking can have on behaviour.
The Scottish government published an impact assessment of it on 30th October. It explains clinicians believe consuming alcohol limits people’s ability to follow coronavirus rules, and combining drinking with a main meal cuts the effect of the alcohol as well as reducing the volume and speed of consumption.
Images by Emily Latimer