Well, here we are again… Stuck between a rock and a hard place. It is very difficult these days, as hospitality business owners, not to sound like whiny toddlers complaining that things aren’t fair. But, they are not. No matter how it gets dressed up and justified by being for “the greater good”, what has once again happened this week is nothing short of one of the biggest industries in the country once again being thrown under the bus.
We are not stupid people, we understand the scientific principles for the recommendations of avoiding social contact, but imagine, if you will, that the business you work for or run was suddenly faced with senior ministers and government officials saying to your customers that your perfectly legal business should be avoided as best they can. How would you or your employer feel, to have become pariahs and almost been made enemies of the state overnight? Not great, I would imagine. But, the one hope you would cling to is that surely if they are telling people to not spend money with you, for the sake of public health, there would be some form of support? Something to stop tens of thousands of companies going under, hundreds of thousands of people to lose their jobs or businesses and even potentially homes. Don’t hold your breath, as I doubt you have the lung capacity to survive long enough.
I know we have been here before, and last time they did eventually help and offer some crumbs of support and comfort, after giving us all a very good scaring. But this time, things are potentially far worse. We are not coming into this after years of steady trading. No, it comes after two years of turmoil where hospitality has been closed more than open, and hugely restricted when able to trade. Two years where many companies have racked up huge debts to landlords, inland revenue, suppliers and government loan schemes, all of which are needing payment on top of all normal operating costs. Support schemes like rates holidays and furlough have ended and taxes are heading back up, and the wider impact of Covid, allied to Brexit-related issues is having a huge impact on supply chains and operating costs (some of the material and energy cost increases we are seeing at the moment are beyond eye-watering, and that is just for those increasingly rare moments when things are actually available).
Despite all this, there have been no whispers of support. Our PM has taken to deflecting any tough questions to Chris Whitty and running away, our Chancellor of the Exchequer has been on a yoga retreat in California, too busy with important stuff to worry about the economy, and it is pretty clear, with the costs of managing covid through increased testing and vaccinations, we can’t really afford it as a country anyway. I know something will eventually have to happen, because industry pressure will eventually have some effect, and of course, the PM is too concerned about his public image to become known as the leader who destroyed something as heavily ingrained into the British psyche as the pub. Financially the equation of the cost of support versus the loss of tax income and cost of social support if the industry implodes should also come out in our favour but, in the meantime, we sit here waiting, scared and very afraid. Again.
Exacerbating all of this of course, is the fact that these lords and masters don’t seem to see rules and restrictions as affecting them. They are just for us normal people. So whilst we sit and sweat over the next rent payment and how our staff will fare, they will be living it up partying like nothing is going on, stuffing fancy canapes into their fat gobs, washing them down with expensive champagne and, if the reports about the test results from the cistern tops in Westminster are anything to go by, chucking copious quantities of high-grade cocaine up their noses.
Please don’t think we are being over dramatic about this. It is very real. There have been reports this week from trade heavyweights like chef Tom Kerridge offering hard evidence. Tom shared documentation on Wednesday showing how just one of his restaurants has had over 600 people cancel bookings in the previous few days. The owner of the Cattle Grid gastropub group today spoke about how one of his pubs did £13k in turnover last Thursday, but only £1.8k yesterday. We saw our quietest Thursday night gig last night since 2018. The whole of Devizes road was eerily quiet. It was like a January in fact, not the run up to Christmas (it was still a cracking gig).
But, we are The Tuppenny. We would prefer to just crack on with things and not whine. So, whilst we don’t have support we have no choice, we have to stay open and trading. We are not doing this to be greedy or because we don’t care about the community. We have two families to support and a staff of 6 reliant on the business for income. We have to find a way to make it work for everybody (much like the government are meant to) as safely as possible.
For us, that is pretty simple as we haven’t changed much since the early days of pandemic. We still have hand sanitiser on all tables for you to use, we still haven’t brought all our furniture back in to the building so you are as spaced out as you can be without it being economically unviable. The stools at the bar are still not back, and we are still asking you to not drink at the bar. We still sanitise handles, tables, chairs etc regularly, and will be stepping that process up even further. We still regularly open all the doors to displace the air in the space, and will be doing that even more so (sorry if it gets nippy occasionally). We also pride ourselves on you lot, and your informed, measured and sensible behaviour. It makes spending time in our bar much more relaxing and worry free than elsewhere. So, if you do feel able to socialise and have a drink whilst you still can, we have it all in place for you to do so with as much confidence as you could have.
Of course, we totally understand and appreciate how it is for those of you who don’t feel able to be out where it is busy, especially in the run up to Christmas. Perhaps you may feel ok coming out mid-week when it is even quieter? If you don’t, you can still support us through the web-shop where we have our full selection of craft and traditional beers, ciders, natural wine and cocktails, along with some great gift-wrapped mixed cases, gift vouchers and other present ideas. I am sure you still want us to be around when you do feel able to be out and about again.
We are trying to stay positive and driven, and not complain like five year-olds, but it is hard when you wake to newspaper headlines that state things like “UK shuts down in bid to save Christmas”. Whilst many people may be trying to “save” their Christmas, we are trying to save our everything, so please forgive a little self-indulgent whining.