Let us be good customers
In one more sleep, I will be able to head back into my local. The community hub is once more, the doors will spring open, the landlord cheery and jubilant welcomes me – his enthusiasm boundless, his energy almost uncontainable. I feel like the most important customer of his day.
Everything is so familiar – that teak stained bar gleaming, the backlighting soft and exposing all my favourite brands, lined up ready for me to choose… what shall it be? I cannot decide, I lean over the bar further so I can take a good look at which Gin is speaking to me, is it an elderflower type day or am I feeling more like a raspberry girl? There is lots of time, I can peruse and take my time in choosing…
I hear the footsteps of many more joining me, the community has reunited. My friends greet me, our families intermingle. The volume is getting louder and louder and pints are flowing, everyone is laughing, the neighbour’s kids are running in and out of the garden, begging for a packet of crisps and 20p for the sweet machine. Mr Fraser is propped up the bar, in his usual seat his old but sparkly-eyed Labrador at his feet. People pass by, pat him on the back and give the golden dog some love. Our pub is back – and its exactly as I had remembered it.
Except… it is not, is it?
Saturday the 4th of July is a great day for our trade. It is a moment we have all collectively hoped for and desperately needed. We will be able to reopen those doors, we will be welcomed customers, but the experience will not be as we had always remembered. Things can not just slide back into place. This is an old establishment offering a new experience. This is the first thing we, as consumers/customers need to realise (and appreciate) – we need to manage our collective expectations to give our pubs the chance they deserve.
Landlords up and down the land will be happy to see us. To pull those pints and hear the ping of the tills opening. For them, it will be more than finally being able to welcome you back – but also the day they welcome some of their teams back, the day they see their livelihoods reestablished (to a degree) and also a day of trial, error and hope.
The pub landscape will be a different one for us all. No longer will you be propped up the bar, squeezed in and pushing through crowds for service. No longer will you have loads of time to peruse displays and make lengthy decisions on what it is you want. No longer will you be able to mingle with every single group you may have previously. No longer will it be likely that a spontaneous (un-booked) group gathering will be possible. No longer will you be needing to shout your order to a mate trying to raise your voice levels above the commentary of the football game that is blasting. It’s also very unlikely you will be leading the pub in a chorus of ‘I did it my way’ on a drunken mic night.
Things will be different. We need to firstly, manage our expectations and secondly remember none of this, I repeat none of this is the landlords or staff’s fault. They are doing the very best they can against an uncertain and complex backdrop of this pandemic. They are doing their best. They cannot control your disappointment. They cannot control the rules. Let us not moan at them because your Saturday footy is no longer on, your Thursday quiz has been cancelled or your usual group is unable to be seated near each other. Believe me, they want these things as much as you. They know the value commercially of these occasions and will be feeling your pain and their own.
Our pubs are re-opening – we should be positive. This is a step in the right direction, another slice of normality restored but let us also recognize that this is the first step. The landlords you meet and staff that serve you will be nervous and cautious to get things right. They may be overly cautious in your eyes; but this is their business, their livelihood’s, the mode of putting food on their table and they also have a huge responsibility and duty of care.
So, let us be patient, understanding customers. Let us not get frustrated if things take longer, if our experience is different or if we do not feel the same instant connection with our local as we did before. Let’s encourage and support our pubs. Celebrate what they are doing well, acknowledge the efforts taken and abide by the rules which have not been set because the landlord wants to run a draconian business and punish you… but have been enforced to protect you.
Let’s all raise a pint on Saturday to the Great British pub and remember that at the centre of our brilliant boozy institutions are real people, good hardworking people who are doing their best in far from ideal circumstances. Let us be good customers and enjoy ourselves responsibly and help ensure our pubs can slowly start to recover. I will drink to that!