‘Pointless opening for 20 people’ - Pubs big and small wrestle with decision to re-open
- Credit: Nick Butcher
It’s a nerve-wracking time for pub owners across Great Yarmouth - with most planning a delicate return to the “new normal” after three months behind closed doors.
For those with ample outdoor space, setting up coronavirus-secure drinking and dining areas has been challenging, but manageable.
Ricky Malt, who owns the Thurne Lion in Great Yarmouth and the White Horse in Neatishead, said he’s been working along the lines of “go hard or go home” at his two pubs.
He said: “We have no choice but to re-open this Saturday. We usually make around 40pc of our turnover in July and August, so if we don’t open now, there’s a likelihood we might not make it through the winter.”
Although the Lion at Thurne is bigger than the White Horse, according to Mr Malt the socially-distanced template for both is roughly the same.
He said: “Our new hours will be noon-10pm for drinks and noon-9pm for food. When you arrive you will be greeted by a host who will take you to your seats.
“We will have three zones with a dedicated server and all internal spaces will be bookable-only.
“By creating a ‘pen’ by annexing half the car park, we’ve now got bench capacity for 240 people outside and 66 inside at the Thurne pub. But there won’t be loud music to deter people from raising their voices to hear each other.”
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As part of the government’s plan to re-open the hospitality sector, pub owners must also provide customers’ contact details as part of the ‘track and trace’ measure.
“This will be the weirdest bit”, said Mr Malt. “We’re trying to see if this information can be provided when you book in the first place, so it doesn’t feel like you’re landing in another country upon arrival, but we’ll see.”
At the Theatre Tavern in Great Yarmouth town centre, the challenge is to find adequate, safe space in small surroundings.
New owner Sarah Hamer says she and her husband have been floating different ideas with the council regarding how best to re-open July 4.
She said: “We are definitely going to re-open then, it’s just a question of how.
“We’re a small pub with little outside space, and so think maybe we could place socially-distanced tables and seating out the front in a cordoned-off area.
“There’ll be a one-way system down the alley beside the pub, and we’ll try our absolute best to stop people congregating.
“The thing is, we can only do so much in policing people’s behaviour. We had opened last week for takeaway but had to stop after so much negative publicity.“If it doesn’t work, we’ll have to close again and await further easing of restrictions.”
But for some landlords, the prospect of re-opening to the public on Saturday, even at a distance, is still too risky.
Jimmy Price, who took over Allen’s bar in January, said he’s “far too worried” about a second outbreak to open his doors just yet.
He said: “I’ll be reconsidering at the end of July. I had initially planned to open July 4, but the news of the local outbreak in Leicester made me rethink how sensible it was.
“I know the government has relaxed the 2m rule but I’d still like to follow that. And with that in place, it seems pointless me opening for just 20 or 30 people.”
Likewise, at the Lady Haven, owner Steven Atkinson said that the July 4 opening date would be deferred.
He said: “We’ll be looking at reopening in September when the schools go back. On account of underlying conditions, two members of the household who live above the pub are shielding, and I myself am on the borderline.
“We own this pub and don’t pay a mortgage, so we’re in a somewhat better situation than others. But unless things improve by late August, and its safer for people with long-term conditions to go out, we will unfortunately have to keep our doors shut.”