Lancaster pubs and brewery set sights on July re-opening - but things will be very different

Pubs in Lancaster and Morecambe are making preparations to re-open in July after more than three months of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

By Nick Lakin
Thursday, 28th May 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Thursday, 28th May 2020, 10:22 am

Queuing at the bar in that most British of ways will be a thing of the past for many pubs - at least in the short term - as the hospitality industry prepares for a revival under extremely challenging circumstances.

There is expectation, or at least hope, that pubs and restaurants will re-open in July as the coronavirus pandemic lockdown eases.

But how they do this will depend on the size and shape of the premises, the rules on social distancing, the flexibility of outdoor spaces - and whether breweries - many of which are not operating - have enough notice to start making beer again.

The Sun Hotel in Lancaster.

Lancaster and Morecambe also have a vibrant and popular music and entertainment scene, which is very much a part of the pub culture in the area - and there will be question marks over how this is relaunched too.

Phil Simpson, director of C2 Investments which operates Lancaster Brewery and The Sun Hotel in Lancaster, said the business is ramping up ready for re-opening, despite "frustration" over a lack of planning and guidance from the government.

Both the brewery, in Wyresdale Road, and the pub and hotel, in Church Street, have put together plans for a phased return.

Phil said that he has two plans for social distancing - one for 2m distancing and one for 1.5m.

Staff at Lancaster Brewery.

He said: "We're working out a plan with regards staffing and hygiene, sourcing PPE, and we've got an App that will be up and running in two weeks, allowing people to order from their tables.

"We'll have new entry and exit methods, and toilets will be one at a time only, unless we hear something different.

"Capacity will be down 30 to 40 per cent in most places based on the two metre distance rule, which a lot of places will struggle with, but if it's 1.5m, which is being done in some other countries, then that changes it to a 20-30 per cent reduction in capacity.

"There will be greeters on the door, no bar service, and for those that come to sit at tables with their families and friends, we want to make that experience as normal as possible.

Tim Tomlinson at The Stonewell Tap.

"If we can nurture that idea and give customers a good experience, then we'll be fine."

Tim Tomlinson, landlord at The White Cross, Merchants and Stonewell Tap, and chair of Lancaster Pubwatch, said he was working to the same timetable, although there were still questions about what pubs and restaurants will and won't be able to do.

And JD Wetherspoon - which runs the Sir Richard Owen in Lancaster and the Eric Bartholomew - said it was also ready to re-open once the government gave the go-ahead.

It said it would employ two full time staff per pub, slightly more for bigger pubs, who will regularly clean surfaces and touch points throughout the pubs.

Lancaster Brewery is aiming to be re-open in July.

Tim Tomlinson said: "The White Cross is relatively simple, and there is the potential to use other outside areas such as the car park and further down the canal, depending on what the council allow.

"I'm assuming that for some time yet, there will be no standing in pubs, but that people would be able to sit in a "bubble" of family and friends.

"We'll be looking at a one way system in and out, and we have multiple doors, but for those pubs that have one door in and out, this is going to be much more challenging."

He said he will also be putting in place procedures for social distancing at tables, and booking in advance.

He said that many pubs would probably only be able to operate at half capacity at best, and this would prove challenging in terms of overheads such as rent and wages versus profit and, ultimately, survival.

For smaller pubs and micropubs, the social distancing issue would be even more of a challenge.

Both publicans said there would be issues with capacity at weekends, and there has been some discussions that Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays may become busier as a result.

Tim added: "It's likely that people would want to book somewhere and stay there all night, to be sure they have a table.

"It's going to be much more difficult to turn up somewhere and expect to get in at the weekend."

But despite all the challenges, some of which may of course change by July, there is some optimism.

"We're going to be opening the beer garden at the brewery as soon as possible," Phil said.

"There's a lot of space there for people.

"It's been very frustrating in many ways.

"It's the pub industry rather than the government that are working out these measures.

"They're completely frozen and seem to be relying on the private sector.

"There's a vacuum, there's nothing coming out from government in terms of planning.

"In mainland Europe, a lot of countries have now opened up bars and restaurants and it hasn't caused any major spikes in coronavirus cases.

"It is ourselves and Spain that are sticking to the two metre rule, while others are saying 1.5m.

"It would be nice to have some guidelines from government."

He said that staff are "completely fed up" and want to return to work.

"Six months ago we were all worrying about staffing because of Brexit, especially in the Lake District but, sadly, I don't think we're going to have those issues because of coronavirus and people needing work.

"I know the council are looking at lots of different options in terms of outside seating and beer gardens, but whatever they decide they need to do it in the next few days.

"One of the big problems is that very few breweries are operating, and they're going to need two or three weeks to start creating supply.

"Re-opening hotels will be a lot easier - and a lot of businesses rely on hotel accommodation as the main part of their income."

He said there were also questions around distancing rules in kitchens, and this would affect the menus pubs and restaurants could offer when they eventually re-open.

In a statement released this week, JD Wetherspoon outlined its plans to re-open its venues across the country.

Social distancing measures will result in the employment of two full time staff per pub, slightly more for bigger pubs, who will regularly clean surfaces and touch points throughout

the pubs.

The company said it has undertaken extensive employee consultation and has also consulted with many of its suppliers and contractors, as well as referring to UK Hospitality guidelines.

The Sir Richard Owen will have screens at the till point and there will also be screens to create seating areas where it is not possible to separate the tables to the social distancing requirement.

Wetherspoon will provide gloves, masks and protective eyewear and employees can elect whether to wear them or not, subject to government guidelines.

There will be an average ten hand sanitiser dispensers around the pub, including at the entrance for customers and staff to use.

Every employee will need to complete and sign a daily health assessment questionnaire to confirm that they are fit to work. This will include having their temperature taken using a

digital thermometer.

Dedicated staff will monitor the pub at all times in order to maintain social distancing standards and there will be a member of staff on the door at peak times.

The pub will use one entrance with a separate exit door where possible.

Customer entry and exit will be marked out by floor stickers and/or barriers and there will be clear printed information providing guidance to customers as they enter the pub.

The pub will have a member of staff working full time (two staff per pub to cover all opening hours) to sanitise all the contact points during opening hours.

These will include door handles, allergen information screens, card payment machines and hand rails.

Customers will be asked to use the Wetherspoon order and pay app, wherever possible, or pay at the bar using a credit/debit card and contactless, although cash will be accepted.

Staff will hand over all drinks holding the base of the glass and when ordered by the app they will be delivered to the table on a tray and placed on the table using the base of the glass.

Food will be delivered to the table by a member of floor staff.

Tracy Harrison, manager at The Sir Richard Owen, said: “At present the government have not confirmed any reopening date for pubs.

“However, it is important that we are prepared for any announcement.

“We have spent a number of weeks consulting with staff who work in our pubs, as well as area managers in order to draw up our plans.

“The safety of staff and customers is paramount.”