Pubs and restaurants in Wales still have no real idea when they’ll be able to open again.
In fact, the only thing about their immediate future that was clear in First Minister Mark Drakeford’s coronavirus update on Friday was that they are not the priority for at least the next six weeks and that they are also unlikely to be included in the next two reviews of Wales’ lockdown restrictions. These will be on March 12 and April 2.
For an industry that has spent much of the last 12 months closed entirely at enormous financial cost, you may have expected the ongoing delays to have caused further frustration and anger.
But those we spoke to were pragmatic about the future and echoed Mr Drakeford’s message that they wanted clarity and as much certainty as possible in the approach to reopening, rather than a stop-start approach.
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On Friday, Mr Drakeford said: “In the next six weeks our priorities will continue to be children and education, whether it is possible to open some non-essential retail, if there is any prospect of even a modest resumption in the tourism industry. Hospitality, if we can accomplish that successfully, their turn will come.”
“The other thing the hospitality industry has said to me is that they don’t want stop-start. They don’t want to be able to re-open and then find that because the virus gets a grip again, everything has to close.”
Full details of the lockdown rules and changes for Wales announced on Friday can be found here.
Carol Jones, manager at Wig and Pen in Swansea, says: “I didn’t expect him to say anything. There has been talk that maybe pubs might open outside in April but I don’t really know where that’s come from. It doesn’t seem to come from anyone in particular, but it is the talk on various websites and social media.
“For myself personally it’s not great but fortunately I’m not in too bad of a position financially, and luckily the company that I work for are supportive but I’m not looking at [reopening] until about May.
“I want to open like everybody else does, we want to open and start making money, but there’s no good opening on a false hope that in a couple of weeks time he’s going to close us again. We need to be properly open.”
The first lockdown saw Carol’s business pour 50 barrels of beer down the drain, with permission from Welsh Water. Since then Carol has been very careful about ordering stock.
She says: “This time, in lockdown two, I’ve kept my stock low and only lost about a dozen barrels but obviously you have other stock that goes out of date as well – bottles and crisps.
“This has been going on for a year now, so stock that we had last time and we kept because it was still in date, of course that’s going out of date now. We didn’t really have time to sell them, we only had a couple of weeks. For me personally there’s no point in opening unless it’s going to be long-term, until we know we’re going to be open for good.”
Carol considers herself one of the lucky pub managers as she gets support from company Craft Union, but despite this she is still having to access her personal savings to keep going.
She says: “It’s hard, I’ve worked hard to build up savings but that’s the way it is. We all miss the rugby days so much, it’s usually heaving in here – it’s so busy, it’s like being in the stadium. On a rugby day we literally take massive money, so now I’m just going have a little rugby party with just me and my sons instead.”
Aberystwyth pub Y Ffarmers, which has featured in the Michelin Guide, Good Pub Guide and AA Restaurant and Pub Guide as well as Gist Vile’s Best Pubs in Wales, is co-owned by Caitlin Morse and business partner, Lewis Johnstone.
Caitlin says: “Regarding reopening, I don’t really mind the delay as long as they get it right. I think the worst thing that would happen would be that they open us too soon and close us again because it costs so much money to open every time, mainly because of wasted stock.”
Currently, Caitlin and her staff are offering takeaways and this is keeping the business ‘ticking over’ until the time comes to reopen.
She says: “This kind of stop-starting. and pubs being open but they can’t sell alcohol, I mean that’s just not going to work. It didn’t work for us last time, we tried it for one weekend and then went back to takeaways because a pub is about socialising and enjoying yourself and with too many restrictions you just can’t.
“As long as he [Mark Drakeford] waits and then we can reopen, obviously with restrictions like social distancing and stuff, that’s OK but no alcohol was just the most ridiculous thing so I’ll be glad if that’s not happening.”
Jon Bassett, who owns five pubs across south Wales as the family of the JW Bassett Pubs company, tries to stay positive and support the managers of his pubs to get through. But for him it’s more about how the pubs reopen than when they reopen.
Jon says: “I had no expectations at all from the announcement on Friday, I know the hospitalisations have got to come down to take the pressure off the NHS. Six weeks was said so that means nine weeks at least until we open. We just need to know how we’re going to reopen. In the past there has been some confusion and for some time there were different rules in different counties as well, that was difficult.”
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Jon is concerned about the restrictions pubs have to follow to allow them to reopen to ensure they don’t have to close again. He’s keen the details for the future are informed from the past 12 months.
Jon says: “What will the restrictions be? If it’s how we reopened in August last year, then it’s viable. But if it’s the situation when it’s only the same household at a table, early closing, substantial meals only and no people allowed to just have a drink, then it’s not .”
Jon is grateful for the grants that have supported the hospitality industry but makes the point that there are still costs incurred coming out of a pub’s accounts every week, including fixed costs.
He says: “The furlough has supported the staff but we can’t go on forever. This will be the third time of reopening – I hope there’s not going to be a fourth and a fifth because it’s just so costly. There have been whispers about opening outside. I’ve got five pubs and I’m not sure if it’s viable to just open outside if the weather turns or gets cold. Some pubs don’t have an outside space and people have still got to come in to use the toilets at the pubs that do.
“I try to keep positive every day and put it down as another battle, that’s the way I’m trying to deal with it. I just try to be positive and keep the staff positive.”