How have UK pubs and bars adapted to reopening?

Posted on | Posted in Hospitality

Last month, we blogged about the upcoming reopening of UK pubs and bars and what measures venues were implementing. A month on, we’re looking at how reopening has panned out.

UK pubs and bars have been open since 4th July and we’ve seen a mixture of celebrations and setbacks. The nation has adapted to the “new normal” of socialising, and bar and pub owners have got to grips with table service, remote ordering and track and trace.

There’s been criticism in the media of non-socially distanced revelling, like the scenes witnessed in London’s Soho area on what was dubbed the “super Saturday” of reopening. In the days following, a handful of pubs closed due to reported COVID cases, advising staff and customers to isolate.

For the most part, however, UK pubs and bars have seen positive responses to reopening their doors to the public. Customers are keen to enjoy food and drink outside the home and most people have welcomed and cooperated with the protective measures taken by bars and restaurants.

Getting used to “the new normal”

Pubs and bars have made use of car parks, pavements, and alleyways for added seating. Remote ordering apps have reinforced distancing and made queuing a thing of the past. Door staff are greeting arrivals with temperature checks and track and trace protocols.

Research by Yumpingo’s We Hear You initiative found 96% of customers were satisfied with the precautions taken and 94% were satisfied with the way teams followed hygiene practices. It’s a promising start, with customer confidence and compliance moving in the right direction.

UK pubs, bars, and restaurants – who is thriving and who is surviving?

Traditional pubs and pub-restaurants have reopened in the largest numbers, likely due to more room for distancing and managing capacity. In mid-July, The Guardian reported 70% of pubs or pub restaurants had reopened to the public, compared with 42% of bars and just 17% of restaurants.

For businesses that have opened, sales have varied substantially and are still falling short of pre-COVID levels. Pubs open in the first week reported a 39% decline in sales compared with last year, with bars down 43% and restaurants down 40% (statistics from The Guardian).

Patchy recovery with urban, suburban, and rural variations

Across the UK, we’re seeing a mixed recovery as customers favour larger venues with outdoor seating, away from busy areas. Large rural and suburban establishments are seeing the highest profits from reopening, due to outdoor space and beer gardens. These pubs and restaurants can make social distancing easier to follow for more people, meaning customers feel more at ease.

For venues in busy town and city centres, things are more difficult. Bars and late-night venues, particularly small independents, are struggling to attract enough customers if they have reopened at all. Many customers are still apprehensive at the prospect of drinking indoors.

What’s next for UK pubs, bars, and restaurants?

It remains to be seen how reopening will affect the pandemic in the UK in the long term. The threat of case spikes and subsequent lockdowns and closures is ever present.

However, there are promising signs of recovery in pockets of the hospitality industry. Bar and restaurant owners and managers have been continuously resourceful in their approach to finding new ways of operating, and public perception has been receptive.

The more businesses continue to make use of their outdoor space while customers and staff acclimatise to distancing measures, the longer this recovery can last. The lockdown has shown people are keen to support establishments in their local areas where they can.

Are you a bar or restaurant owner or manager looking to extend your space to seat more covers at a distance? Talk to us about what’s possible.