Only 28 customers would be allowed in Bell & Crown if rule enforced
Simon Emeny, the chief executive of Fuller’s, has called on the government to relax the two metre distancing rule for pubs when they finally reopen after lockdown.
Along with other leading figures in the industry, he asking that guidance should be changed to asking people to stay just one metre apart in line with the current World Health Organisation recommendation.
Fuller’s, which sold its brewery operation to Asahi last year, closed its 393 pubs as soon as lockdown was announced and furloughed nearly 5,000 staff.
Mr Emeny has participated in regular conference calls with the Business Secretary Alok Sharma along with 15 other top executives from hospitality and leisure companies and they have been pressing the point that the rules need to be changed before pubs reopen.
Bars and restaurants in Italy, Denmark and France are serving customers again with one metre distancing in place. The government is saying that it is possible that pubs could reopen on 4 July but Mr Emeny believes that many owned by Fuller’s couldn’t operate under the current restrictions which he described as 'economically totally impractical'.
He personally tested the two-metre rule at the Bell & Crown in Chiswick and concluded that the capacity would fall by 80% from around 120 customers to just 28.
He told the Daily Mail, 'At this level of trade, it would be impossible to operate financially.
'As European countries have started reopening pubs and restaurants, it's become clear they are following the WHO guidelines, so why aren't we?'
If the restrictions are not changed Mr Emeny says that half of his pubs will remain closed and fewer staff will be brought back from furlough. He believes that, with the government encouraging people to take their holidays in the UK, it is vital that the nation’s pubs are back in action to meet the extra demand.
New operating guidelines for pubs drawn up jointly between the industry and the Government suggest that bar service will reduced with more customers served at tables.
Fuller’s plans to introduce electronic ordering by the time they reopen which will allow drinks to be bought either through a mobile phone app or a device supplied by the pub. Cash purchases will be phased out with contactless payments encouraged.
Mr Emeny added, 'What we don't want to do is create some sterile, ghostly experience. 'Pubs have still got to be places that you want to go to for the buzz and the atmosphere. That's why two metres doesn't work. You don't want to create an environment where everyone's scared.'
Rents will remain an issue for the pub trade. Tenants have received a rent holiday for the 180 pubs where Fuller's is the landlord and increases will be tapered when the return to operation. For the 52 pubs held by leasehold by Fuller’s, they say they are in an ongoing dialogue with landlords.
Mr Emeny believes that conditions for the industry will remain difficult and he wants the furlough scheme extended until next April and business rates relief until April 2022.
Fuller's is not paying a dividend and has cut directors’ pay during the crisis. Their financial results the year to March are due to be published next month and are expected to show the initial impact of the pandemic.
May 27, 2020