As we approach the end of May 2021, we've seen the gradual reopening of our pubs and brewery and I find myself in a reflective mood.
On the one hand, it's a joy to be trading once again. To be planning new brews and promotions that will delight our customers is a genuine thrill and a reminder of the passion I have for this industry. On the other, I can't help wondering what lies around the corner for us.
Some costs of the pandemic have been obvious; lost turnover, the continued payment of rent and utility bills, the high cost of out of date stock and many pints poured down the drain, the thousands of pounds spent making our premises 'Covid-secure' with barriers, PPE, hand sanitiser and signage. It's fair to say that financial support has helped - the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, grant support and business rate relief, together with rent concessions from our landlords have all contributed to our survival, but the hidden costs of the pandemic are only now beginning to emerge.
Trading with reduced capacity is a very real issue; from 12 April 21, when we could trade outdoors only, we watched as customers braved the elements to support us while many others understandably stayed away. Since 17 May 21 we're indoor trading, but with limited numbers allowed inside to the 'Rule of 6' and bearing the high staffing costs of 'table service only'.
Having been off for 9 months in the last 12, our teams have found themselves back at work going from zero to one hundred miles an hour. Imagine the stress of having to remember skills that once came easily while under the pressure of customer's waiting?
Some have found new careers and new opportunities - it's a long time to sit at home and consider your future options against an uncertain future of the industry you work in. This leaves us with an uphill struggle to recruit; with many pubs and bars looking for good people, there'll no doubt be a fight to attract the very best who remain.
And it's not just our staff who feel this pressure; machines aren't meant to stand idle for long periods. Pumps, heating elements and chillers at the brewery have failed, while in our pubs, dishwashers, glasswashers and ice machines that are used to working continuously have given up the ghost, leaving us to bear the costs of repairs and replacements following these early break-downs.
Then there's the changing habits of our customers. So many tales have been told of bars built in back gardens and increased drinking at home. Is that really what we want in our future? Limited social interaction in an unsupervised environment? We have evidence of others who remain afraid to return; regular faces we're yet to see, as they remain afraid to come back to pubs and restaurants that have been portrayed as places of high risk.
Back in our pubs we're managing the growing frustration of some customers who are tired of restrictions and rules. Politely dealing with those who don't want to sit at a table or wear a face covering when standing and nipping to the loo. This enforcement of rules (many of which seem to defy logic) certainly takes its toll on our motivation and mental health - it simply isn't the reason we took a job that we thought existed to make people happy.
And now there's the threat and speculation over further lock downs and the need to control the spread of the new 'Indian-variant'.
Lock Down 4? Can the hospitality and brewing industry survive yet another period of closure? We've been like the plucky fighter who's been knocked down, but gets back up again round after round.
We need our ministers to consider these softer, qualitative implications of continued restrictions. We need the continued support of our customers - not only in their valued custom, but in their patience whilst adhering to the 'rules'. And we'll need people to keep taking the vaccines to help control the spread and risk of the virus.
Only then will we know if we can make it to the final bell.