Prior to the reopening of indoors last Monday, how did publicans find the great outdoors as a business model for the future and what has been learned from serving outdoors rather than inside? What were the staffing implications of having to offer an outdoor service? We asked a few publicans for their take on the great outdoors.
“It’s a stepping stone for us to get inside,” said Willie Ahern of The Palace bar in Dublin’s city centre, “We were blessed with the first two weeks weather-wise.
“We’re somewhat limited in numbers for outside service so we’re just treading water really. It’s helping support staff and paying some of the bills.”
Ronan Lynch in the Swan Bar in Dublin’s Aungier Street had found outside reopening ‘a different model’.
“There are a lot of learnings in it,” he said. He prepared both the pub and his staff for reopening last month by bringing them in a couple of weeks early, re-skilling some and ensuring that the right protocols were in place so that everybody could do their job properly.
“It’s important to give the consumers confidence,” he stressed, “So a lot of work was put into setting out the right protocols and getting the tills sorted.”
He’d found business very good in the first week of reopening outside and was happy; but the second week found business a bit back and the third had not been great, largely thanks to the deteriorating weather.
“People seem reluctant to go out in this kind of weather” he observed, “so I’m keen to reopen inside.”
Beyond Dublin Pat O Riordan of O’Riordan’s in Coachford, County Cork, had been busy since he reopened.
“We’ve had to take on more staff because of the huge amount of extra work,” he admitted.
“There’s a lot of walking in and out and getting change back and forth etc but the customers are clearly delighted to have a drink and a chat.”
Denis Murray of Murray’s bar in Macroom, County Cork, had found business to be very good as there were only a couple of Macroom bars in a position to reopen outside. So he’d been getting customers he wouldn’t normally get who’d freely told him that they’d be taking their leave when their own locals reopen in the town.
“We now open at four o’clock instead of five because business is so good,” he beamed.
Murray’s bar seats between 70 and 80 people of which 40 can sit comfortably undercover.
Of course there’s now way more work in it and he was lucky he had three teenage daughters and his wife to help out when the pub got busy. He also employs a full-timer and a part-timer.
“Previous to this whoever opened at five would be the one person who’d do it all, but now you need at least two to open and perhaps three for the night or four at least on a Saturday and Sunday,” he said.
It’s interesting too just what you learn when operating outside your premises.
The Palace always had a couple of barrels outside the bar, so it pushed things out a bit by placing a few more across the road.
“But in the city centre you have to keep an eye on everything,” warned Willie, “There’s been a lot of anti-social behaviour of late and you have to keep an eye out to ensure that no incidents occur from troublemakers. So a bit of stress comes with it. The suburban fellows would tell you different, perhaps….”
There’s been a great deal of adapting to the new business model by both staff and customers at the Swan where Ronan observed, “It’s a lot different because customers’ expectations have changed”.
The focus on customer detail has increased, he said and customer expectations are higher.
Over in Coachford Pat O’Riordan had to “up our game” by investing heavily in an outdoor beer garden even ‘though he admitted that, “Ireland is not very suitable for outdoor dining and drinking”.
Being outdoors had made Denis Murray aware of how weather-dependent his trade is at this time.
“On Saturday night it downpoured to eight o’clock so six tables were taken out of contention for the night,” he recalled, “We’re not taking bookings because of that, so we’re just doing walk-ins. But the regulars are delighted to be able to show up and have a chat”.
The Palace had been very well-supported by its regulars during the first few weeks of outdoor opening where the demand for product tended to follow traditional lines, said Willie, “We also got a bit of training in during the week and so we’re doing a few Summery whiskey drinks and whiskey cockails.”
He made the valid point that craft beers could be losing out during the outdoor service era “… as customers aren’t able to see what’s at the counter, they tend to return to the ‘old reliables’.”
More staff required?
Staff remains a problem for the licensed trade.
“I’m doing a lot of hours myself over the last three weeks,” Willie Ahern said, “I’ve been here most days and the lads have battened down as well. We’re doing extra shifts, so it’s more labour-intensive without a doubt. We’re carrying an extra man all the time now.”
Ronan Lynch had lost five senior staff, had taken on four and looked to fill more positions.
“As I said, the model has changed so we’re doing a lot more legwork and tending to open up later as we realise there’s no business there until early afternoon.”
This is perhaps the understandable fallout of there being no office staff around, no students and no tourists either, so there’s much less traffic for The Swan to deal with.
On the other hand, Pat O Riordan had been lucky in that all his original Irish staff returned.
“All my family have come in and helped out too,” he added.
19th of July doubt
At the time of going to press, the government had yet to postpone the 19th of July reopening date but Ronan Lynch found himself disheartened at any implied threat to the 19th indoor reopening.
“We’ve put in the hard yards outside and we’ve done it for weeks now,” he said glumly, “And it’s tough on the staff.
“At this stage, after going through the last 16 months, we’ve been part of the harshest hospitality restrictions in Europe.”
Denis Murray hoped that it would all open up on the 19th too but in reality he didn’t think it was going to happen.
“They’ll say to us on the 19th ‘Give us another couple of weeks and we’ll have 90% of the people done’,” he mused.
Willie Ahern just found himself “mentally jaded” with the on/offendess of it all.
“We’ve been through so much between opening and closing and dates being pushed out…But I can see what’s coming down the road.
“The Hospitality industry has been told what’s going on only on a ‘need-to-know basis’ and then disregarded,” he felt, “How does the government think that big pubs with 30 or more staff can turn around operations when they only get two days’ notice of opening? The Government are not thinking of the hospitality industry at all.”
Pat O Riordan too remained very sceptical of a 19th of July reopening.
“I think pubs have been a scapegoat and headline-maker over all this time,” he said, “I spent a fortune on PPE with perspex screens at the bar and separate areas etc.”
He’d made it so that there’s no need to handle the front door which remains open as does the door to the bathroom and the back door.
Fresh air comes in through the pub’s open doors better than any mechanical ventilation, he said but just the same, he wondered about what the Winter will bring when the doors can remain open no longer….