While the Northern Ireland reopening strategy is viewed as the best way forward there’s huge concern amongst publicans, particularly in border areas, that customers will flock north when beer gardens reopen this week while no date has been given for opening RoI pubs.
And the Government risk “being left behind by the public” if they deny outdoor hospitality service from resuming next month, according to the Licensed Vintners Association which expects the levels of outdoor socialising to grow significantly in coming weeks as the public health situation improves and the country begins to experience better weather.
The Association believes that the Government’s choice comes down to whether it wants controlled outdoor socialising in managed settings with clear Social Distancing and other public health protocols followed, or uncontrolled socialising on the streets and other public locations across the country.
VFI survey says publicans want to reopen “like the North”
A new survey from the Vintners Federation of Ireland has revealed that over 90% of its members want to reopen “like the North” with the substantial meal provision abolished.
The VFI says that the upcoming Government announcement about reopening hospitality must include a coherent plan that provides confidence for its members and the 50,000 staff employed by pubs.
This coming Friday the 30th of April sees pubs in Northern Ireland reopen for outdoor trading. Three weeks later they can resume indoor business.
A similar scenario in the Republic would see outdoor resume on the 28th of May and indoors on the 18th of June (assuming a four-week lag in RoI vaccinations compared to the North).
The VFI’s survey of over 1,000 members found that the majority of publicans are pessimistic about a recovery in second half of 2021.
87% support calls for reopening here outdoors on the 28th of May followed by indoor trading on the 18th of June.
Even with this, over 60% believe that hiring staff will be a major issue and 63% know of a publican who has permanently closed their pub.
“Given the North is planning to fully reopen its pubs and hospitality sector in May it would be crazy to have two different systems in place on the island,” said VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, “Similar to the reopening plan in England, the North has abolished the much-derided €9 meal and all hospitality outlets will reopen together,” he continued, “Even Simon Harris, who was Minister for Health when the substantial meal provision was introduced, has called for it to be abolished and for traditional pubs to reopen alongside food outlets.
“This week will highlight the peril facing the pub sector as outlets in the North will reopen beer gardens. There’s genuine concern customers will flock north while our members have to sit back and remain closed. The imminent Government announcement must provide a coherent strategy for pubs through indicative dates for both outdoor and indoor trading.
“Government cannot spilt the sector like they did last year when traditional pubs were forced to remain closed while food outlets reopened. Our members are worried by media reports referring to ‘outside dining’ and reopening dates for hotels and B&Bs without any mention of pubs. Our message is clear, the hospitality sector must reopen together.”
However he pointed out that reopening pubs is not something that can happen overnight.
“Our members need indicative dates to allow them plan, rehire staff and get their pubs ready. Suppliers will need time to ramp up brewing and organise deliveries.”
The VFI’s survey findings have been published as the Government prepares to reveal its reopening plan for the hospitality sector this Thursday.
The VFI is calling for pubs to be allowed reopen for outdoor trading on 28th May followed four weeks later by indoor trading on 18th June.
All pubs and licensed premises are legally permitted to offer takeaway service and in Dublin, LVA members are already reporting “overwhelming” demand for this service from the public.
Based on industry feedback, the LVA believes that most pubs will begin providing takeaway to meet that demand if they’re not allowed to reopen for outdoor service by the end of May.
Improved toilet facilities
Opening outdoor hospitality service will also provide the public with access to thousands of additional toilet facilities, with the LVA estimating that once outdoor hospitality service is permitted a further 1,500 toilets would be available across Dublin and it wants outdoor hospitality for all venues to reopen from the 24th of May. This should be the first step in reopening the hospitality sector, it states, with the LVA also pressing for indoor service to resume in June for all pubs and restaurants in line with the expected reopening of hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs.
“The Government risks being left behind by the public if they do not permit outdoor service to resume for all hospitality next month,” said LVA Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe, “The levels of outdoor socialising are going to rise either way in the coming weeks as the weather gets milder and the public health situation improves. Really, the choice is whether to have increased levels of outdoor socialising take place in the controlled settings provided by hospitality or leave it unfettered and uncontrolled in public spaces, without any facilities.
“Pubs and restaurants can offer managed outdoor spaces with Social Distancing and other public health protocols implemented.
“It is widely acknowledged that outdoor activities are relatively safe and given the expected progress of the vaccine rollout we believe the end of May would represent a reasonable timeframe to permit this activity,” he continued, “That should be followed by indoor service resuming in June as more of the population is vaccinated and is in line with the reopening of hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs. The risk profile for indoor service is the same in all hospitality settings and we will not accept any move to prioritise the reopening of certain sections of hospitality over others.
“The number of licensed premises providing takeaway service is growing week-to-week and we fully expect that trend to further grow throughout May.
“This is not something we have sought, but it is legally permitted and has been throughout the last year. Our members are already reporting overwhelming demand from the public.
“Based on that feedback we expect that if outdoor service isn’t permitted then more and more pubs will begin offering takeaway service in the near future,” he concluded.