WHEN AND HOW DO WE REOPEN PUBS?
If we learn one thing from our time in various states of social restriction, that many incorrectly keep referring to as lockdown, it is that we will learn absolutely nothing. Now is a time when we could as a population begin to sit back, relax and listen to each individual birdsong by an open window, trying to distinguish between the call of a goldfinch and a chaffinch.
Instead we will spend the 23 hours a day we are painfully awake flitting between social media and 24hr news channels, absorbing each and every speculative scrap of claptrap, to give us something else to talk about between checking Facebook again and opening more gin.
For me, it is the “updates” on pub reopenings and the conclusion of the football season. The latter involves me glancing at fictitious articles written by increasingly desperate sports reporters, fed to me through a WhatsApp group comprised mostly of Manchester United fans; Manchester United fans who are happy with their own club's ineptitude and a vicious pandemic as long as Liverpool don't win the league.
For pubs though it is even more speculative. "We just don't know" but that hasn't stopped four thousand hypothetical articles appearing, ranging from pubs being open in June to pubs being shut until Christmas 2021. The last thing we need is a beer blogger giving his conjecture on it all but after four paragraphs of introduction, that is what you are going to get.
This is how I would reopen the pub as soon as is humanely possible. Or it is at least how I would be thinking about my own if I owned one.
When do pubs reopen?
It cannot be stressed enough that pubs cannot reopen until a relaxation of the current social distancing measures. People are upsetting themselves in a fixative state of 2 METRE 2 METRE, sounding like Bruce Forsyth in his Saturday night prime. Of course nothing can be suggested under the 2 metre social distancing rule.
So anything offered here works under the premise that such rules would have relaxed slightly. Frustratingly for pub goers, they will still be shut or working under restrictions when we are long back to commuting on crowded trains, to sit in busy offices or to shop in unrestricted supermarkets once more, watching a packed House of Commons at work. We will repetitively moan about that but it is something we will have to accept.
My first suggestion would be numbers of customers allowed into an individual venue. This would be based on number of seats per square metre, to eliminate some pubs shoving 600 chairs into a corner of the room and claiming that allows them a certain number in. Some pubs may even have to reduce current seating. Standing is not permitted.
How is that structured?
Pubs would simply have to have a MaÎtre D or a concierge - a leader of the entertainment. They would advise whether there is room in the pub and show you to your seat. They would also have the thankless task of telling the inevitable cranks that the pub is full. “I’ve been coming here for 37 years.” Not true. I didn’t see you once in April.
How do we order drinks?
Table service. Blissful, continental, metropolitan table service. I know that the gentlemen who normally squeeze through me at the bar to squint at every pump clip until their eyes bleed may struggle with the concept but let this period of quarantine be a good time to start wearing those glasses you've stubbornly refused to for the last 17 years. Or go for a new eye test as your current prescription is woefully out. Who doesn’t love going to Belgium for table service anyway?
How is thatstructured?
The concierge also takes orders and delivers beers, that are poured by a second member of staff. In a large majority of pubs that will be enough staff outside of a kitchen (larger venues and specialist cocktail bars may need to adjust.)
What about sitting at the bar?
Nothing pleases me more than seeing the constant squawking from irregular pub goers about people sitting at the bar. I'd rather open my imaginary venue solely for 4 people to sit at the bar than live in the self entitled vision of others.
And how do we...
Bar stools. Four of them. Spread evenly. For solo drinkers only. On entry they are given the choice of a stool at the bar or a regular seat elsewhere. Their choice. God it will be blissful to sit at a bar for once and not have Mr Magoo breathing over my shoulder, treating every pump clip like a magic eye puzzle.
What about groups?
The issue with number restrictions is that one group out for Bob the train driver's retirement do could turn up at opening time and instantly fill the pub to capacity. The solo drinker arriving at 12.02 will find themselves turned away.
For this, temporarily maximum group restrictions of 4 or maybe 6 people. Yes we all wanted to go out for our regular Friday night in a group of 7 but last month the pubs weren't open at all so count your blessings.
How does that work?
In my pub, I'd space out groups on consecutive entry. Therefore if you do get Bob and his self entitled hiking group hoping to pull a "group of lads trying to get into a club in Dublin" manoeuvre and arrive in separate numbers then they would be put in different corners of the pub with no movement of furniture allowed. This is the sort of restriction we mocked prior to COVID-19 but now would be necessary. Bring back Britannia Inn Phil who barred half of Mossley for daring to move a chair.
Couldn't we just fill the pub for the day?
This is the trickiest part. It may well be that time restrictions, say up to 2hours, would have to be placed on people to stop people like myself selfishly occupying the same spot for 8 hours. I pick two hours as that is the length of a football match. Would people be willing to wait outside on a one-in-one-out basis? Well I never thought I'd wait with a trolley outside a supermarket to be honest...
How do I pay?
I’ve fought the side of cold hard cash for the last couple of years against the increasing number of contactless venues. But for the time being it would have to be plastic over paper. Paying off a tab at the end would also be preferable, though I found that to be preferable in pubs back in January as well. We just have an aversion for it in this country
How is ANY of this policed?
Very, very simply. Suggestions like this are usually met with a belief that police and doormen would have to be involved. That isn't true. The trust would have to be in the patrons and the owners. But make one simple law if this were to apply to all pubs - one surprise visit from the bobbies at any chance and license is instantly revoked. That fear alone will stop 99.9%+ even considering flouncing the rules. Those that would go against it would be the same pubs that fooloishly continued to serve beer after they had been forced to close.
But what if... what about... what if...
Aye, I sat in my shed for half an hour thinking of a vaguely sensible way for pubs to reopen safely. I don't have all the answers. What I have suggested here I think would work in the majority of pubs, bars and taprooms that I frequent. There may be a specialist rum bar in Saltburn-by-the-Sea which couldn't adapt to this that I simply haven't considered. I hear you.
For some it wouldn’t be financially viable. For some it would mean hiring extra staff that they can’t afford. For most it would defeat the whole point of the pub. There would be a profound effect on the gregarious nature of pubs that would be too much for some.
The hardest part about any restrictions placed on pubs, similar to what has been suggested here, would come from travel. You can't just pick a day to go on a crawl around a city centre of choice as you may never get in a single pub on your list. That isn’t ideal but, as mentioned, we couldn't go anywhere previously and thousands of people were dying. Your generic Manchester pub crawl will have to wait. That ale trail will have to be shelved - you should have picked something more exciting anyway.
It is easy to dismiss any restrictive enforcement as taking the enjoyment away from pubs. The alternative is that no pubs reopen until all restrictions are lifted and life returns to the exact state it was prior to this pandemic. I’ll see you in 2022 then.
If you've wasted your time reading this then at least I know I am as worthy as the bored Guardian writers with no commentary left to say. I don't know when or how pubs will reopen, but you can guarantee that when they do they'll be an ageing, bloated beer blogger at the bar quoting this little ramble to members of staff over two metres away. "I'm just saying, what I would have done is..."