Despite their pleas it could be May before pubs are pouring pints again

I always regarded Sunday lunchtime and Christmas Day as the best sessions to be had in my local pub. The beer would flow along with the good cheer and laughter. A Monday night session wasn’t bad either; a release valve following the return to work after the weekend break, and a chance to chew the cud and put the world to rights.

That’s all a thing of the past. I cant remember the last time I was in a pub and whoever told me that by cutting back on beer, I’d lose weight, needs retraining.

But if the rumours circulating last week are anything to go by, I’d better start work on getting back into shape. The pubs are re-opening. At least, that’s the plea from Wetherspoon’s Tim Martin, The British Beer and Pub Association, and the hospitality industry in the shape of UKHospitality.

They’ve spent the past week pleading with Government for pubs to re-open and return to normal by April at the latest. If not, they warn it could bring many pubs and restaurants to the brink of disaster.

They are also asking for an overhaul of the current system giving restaurants, hotels and other venues freedom to trade in all tiers apart from Tier 4. Under the current model, they must close in Tier 3 areas with pubs and bars required too close in Tier 2 unless they can offer meals.

It looks increasingly likely that our lifestyles in the wake of the pandemic will change dramatically.  Will we flock to pubs in the same numbers as we did if there are fewer to choose from? Will it make the idea of running your own pub less attractive?

The big pub chains have been unperturbed by the high level of churn among tenant landlords in recent years. As long as they can find new tenants willing to plough money into their pubs, life goes on as normal. It doesn’t matter if the pub runs at a loss, the pub owners still get their slice of the action. But that will all change if they can’t find new tenants.

Meanwhile Freehouses, starved of cash for the past year, might also struggle. Landlords will have to build their businesses back up while forking out extra costs, including staff and business rates. They’ll need to sell a lot of pints to make-up the shortfall.

I think it unlikely we will hear anything about a date for pub re-opening ahead of publication of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, or next month’s Budget.

Even then, a lot will depend on the infection numbers. Those are currently still too high and the scientists and medical experts are warning the Prime Minister not to rush his fences. It seems increasingly unlikely there will be a re-opening before Easter. In which case, I’d better steer clear of the Easter eggs too and just stay focussed on that longed for pint. Perhaps in May?

Mickey Clark
Mickey Clark

Mickey has been a financial and business journalist and broadcaster for 46 years having started out as a City Office copy boy on The Times back in 1969. He has written extensively for the Evening Standard, the Express and the Times, and also presented Radio 5 live's Wake Up to Money for over a decade.

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