Here at the Tuppenny we are very good at putting a brave face on things, at just cracking on with what needs to be done, at keeping calm and carrying on. Anything that has been thrown at us, or put out to trip us up, has been dealt with, overcome, or circumvented, always with a smile on our faces. We have become adept at change, rapidly refocusing what we do to continually be able to move forwards. This year has, of course, been the hardest of all to be running a hospitality business. Nobody saw this coming – we all thought the spectre of Brexit was going to be scary beast of the year, and that 2021 was going to be all about the economic hangover from that debacle. How wrong we were.
However, despite this ongoing effort to remain positive, we are human, and the constant bombardment of rules and regulations on our business, and the demonization of our industry, has taken its toll on all of us. The Tuppenny supports two households, two families, both of which live in Old Town, as well as providing an income to our staff. We all sank everything into it, our savings, our energy, and time. To watch it stagnate over such a period has been heart-breaking. We have been closed for over four months so far this year, with two of the open months being the quietest of the year traditionally and four more operating under vastly reduced capacity. Now we should be into our busy period, where we earn the money to get us through the lean months of January and February and we are having to accommodate even more stringent conditions, conditions that are killing us especially, as a normally wet-led pub. We are dealing with it because we have to, but it will leave scars.
But, the way we see it, we have little choice but to evolve, adapt, compromise. Yes, the government has put in place a system of grants to “support” those that are unable to open under the current tier structure. A laughable £1000 has been made available to us. Pretty much what we would expect to take as profit on an average Thursday in December. Yes, one days’ worth of operating profit. Just let that sink in for a minute. That is how much a business like ours is valued by the government.
As per much of the government’s response to the pandemic, it does not actually make any sense. Just to put some numbers on this; the hospitality industry is the fourth largest employer in the UK, accounting for over 3.2 million jobs (most of which are in the 18-25 age group) directly and a further 2.8 million indirectly. The industry generates over £73 billion of gross value to the UK economy directly and a further £87 billion indirectly through supply chain etc. These are just the first set of figures I found (thanks BBC), and date back to 2016. Yet, we still await solid, concrete scientific evidence that hospitality has lead to spikes in transmissions. Anyone who read the evidence published last week that the government tried to use to justify closures with, will have realised it was mainly anecdotal, based on evidence from earlier in the year, from other countries that had different situations and regulations to ours. In essence, it was not robust or tested and would not stand up to even slight scrutiny. As is the tactic to close wet-led pubs but allow other sectors to open uncontrolled.
This means that you can’t have a chilled pint with your friends, in a highly controlled environment where you have to sign in to Track and Trace, are taken through a one-way system to a socially distanced table which has been sanitised (along with the chairs) before you sit down and remove your mask. Then, you have your order taken from a masked member of staff, who sterilises their hands before pouring your drink into a sterilised glass, which once consumed is taken away again to be sterilised (and they clean their hands again). Payment is made on a sterilised card terminal before you mask up and leave (following the one-way system). But you can head down to the shops, fight through the crowds, and grab a couple of non-essential items that have already been handled by a dozen people, all the while rubbing shoulders with people who choose not to wear masks or use hand gel as they come into the shops because, “it’s just a conspiracy to control our minds, innit”. Or of course you can hang out at home with your kids, who have spent all day at school with everyone else’s kids. My youngest has just completed a 2 week isolation along with her entire year group, in fact the last week at her school was rather quiet as only 3 of the 7 year groups were in attendance, the other four being in isolation (don’t fear folks, she doesn’t live with us).
We have all seen the recent photos of shopping centres, high streets, supermarkets and Christmas markets that are heaving with people, entirely unregulated. Can the politicians really tell us that pubs are the problem? Part of their reasoning is based on the behaviour of drunk people, and loss of inhibition, a blanket theory that suggests existing licensing laws are not fit for purpose. A well run pub won’t have very drunk people in – this has been part of licensing laws for a long time, and most pubs are well run. Those that aren’t should be closed down anyway, regardless of Covid, that they haven’t is an enforcement issue that has needed addressing for some time. People with alcohol dependency problems tend to favour buying alcohol from shops (and are often barred from pubs), as do binge drinkers and those seeking to simply get “hammered”. It is cheaper, and there is nobody saying they have had enough. Therefore the claimed lack of control due to excessive drunkenness is more likely to happen in an uncontrolled private environment such as a residence. A well run pub will control the behaviour of the people inside so prevent breaches of rules. At home / a party etc there are no controls in place. I am not wanting to say that pubs are blameless and do not spread a virus like COVID-19, I just want to point out they are not the big bad wolf many paint them to be, there are many more significant situations that spread the virus – focusing on just one minor part of the problem detracts from addressing more important issues elsewhere.
Of course, at the moment in tier 2, if you want a drink you have to eat a “substantial meal”. But nowhere has it ever been defined what that actually means. It also never said anywhere within the regulations when after the meal people have to stop drinking. As per usual, we were expected to just know these things, interpret the rules as best we can and hope that we are correct and don’t fall foul of whatever authority chooses to enforce their version of them. It is frankly, the most farcical bit of the whole process (not the most damaging, that is the restriction to family groups only, although it is not far behind). There have been reported cases of establishments serving a custard cream biscuit with a cocktail as the meal, or adding an extra cherry garnish. Then of course we have the situation where a lot of operators have circumvented the rules by bunging out a bowl of plain pasta or chips for a quid. Even worse, a lot of situations are being reported where people are ordering the food but just leaving it, so the staff have to scrape it all into the bin. Wasteful and rude, and further evidence as to the pointlessness of this particular regulation. Of course there is also the whole scotch egg debate, with cabinet members George Eustace and Michael Gove both claiming that one would constitute a meal. Sorry gents, not according to local EHO and licensing. We asked, they laughed. Then said no. Unless served with chips and a salad.
Compounding our frustrations at having to either stay shut and take the paltry compensation, or completely remodel our business into a restaurant, is that fact that most of the general public seemed to have stopped caring what arbitrary rules the government create. We think they have become blind to them, overloaded with small, contradictory regulations, and consequently most people have stopped paying attention. We have spoken a raft of people who had no idea that they couldn’t sit with their mates inside, or that they had to have a meal each and couldn’t share one, or just have a drink (you can, just not a boozy one). I know we are more invested in knowing what the rules entail, but how could you miss all the announcements? Why are we having to be the bearers of this bad news and police everything ourselves as well? The promised Covid-Marshalls have not been seen, we have had one police visit to check in on us. We take this as a compliment generally as we are acknowledged as one of the least troublesome venues in town, but get the sneaking suspicion nobody else is getting visits either. Sadly, it is proven time and time again that some people and some businesses cannot follow simple guidelines put in place for the benefit of all. These people and places need visible and obvious deterrents sadly.
But you know all this, you follow us as a business so you have heard us belly ache about it frequently. But, this week, we did get the opportunity to put our case to a senior MP. No, not our own MP, who is aware of our frustration following several conversations with him, all of which went in one ear and out the other and were responded to with the party line. This time, we had an online conference with the Shadow Secretary to the Treasury, who very patiently listened to us moan and rant and outline the personal heartache and affect it has had on us all and was genuinely interested in what we have been through and how we have managed it, and has a real desire to get the industry the help it needs. Of course, if she does achieve the impossible, it may well be too late for many.
It was upsetting to read this weekend that one of our neighbours and friends, The Hop Inn, was having to resort to crowdfunding to stay alive. We are close to Jason and his team and appreciate the work they do there. So, for them to reach this level, which surely is an absolute last resort, is devastating. It throws into a realistic light the tightrope we are all walking now, and is one of the measures we hope we have to never resort to. Our preferred tactic is to tighten our belts and try and trade our way out of trouble as best we can using our imagination and stubborn refusal to give in.
There are plenty of things we are trying at the moment, but they all rely on the support that you can give us. Rather than donating money, buy something from us through our shop. We have created a range of gift ideas like mixed cases, glass and beer gift sets, vouchers, T-Shirts and tote bags. Don’t hit up Amazon when shopping for the beer lover in your life – they don’t need your money so keep it local. If you are experience driven, why not attend one of the events we have coming up, like the Supper Club or the Cheesy Quiz? You don’t only get a chance to drink great beer and eat tasty food but you will be entertained, all at the same time. More importantly, you will be supporting a local, family run business and ensuring we are still there the other side of this debacle.