Food & Drinks

Pub chain ‘cannot wait any longer’ and will open on 4 July

British pub group Oakman Inns said it will open all 28 venues on 4 July whether the UK government gives the hospitality sector permission to or not.

The Oakman Inn chain comprises 28 pubs across the UK

The UK government ordered all pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues to close on 20 March this year ahead of a nationwide lockdown imposed on 23 March as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prime minister Boris Johnson had previously said some parts of the hospitality industry could reopen as early as 4 July, but has not given the industry any clear guidance on who will be able to open, when and on what terms.

Dermot King, Oakman Inns’ chief operating officer, said: “We cannot wait any longer and we won’t change our plans unless the prime minister intervenes.

“The operational challenges of restarting a business are complex. We need to plan three weeks out to arrange supplies of, in our case, fresh food and cask ales.

“While the rules on furlough allow us to complete training, we cannot prepare menus – and that requires time. Unless the government performs another policy U-turn, we need to invest in that time now.”

Approximately 90% of Oakman Inns’ 1,000-strong workforce has been on furlough since lockdown was introduced in the UK. The furlough scheme has seen the government pay for 80% of employees’ wages up to £2,500 (around US$3,100) per month for those who cannot work during the pandemic.

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Oakman Inns said it has been using the lockdown period to prepare for when the pubs reopen, ensuring the correct safety measures and protocols are in place, such as screens between tables, reduced capacity, one-way systems through venues and disposable menus.

UK government needs to ‘act fast’

King has also called on the government to “accelerate” the release of its review into the possibility of reducing the guidance for social distancing, particularly in light of images “showing a clear lack of social distancing in queues outside shops and on planes”. All non-essential shops were permitted to open in England this week.

“There is a huge different for the hospitality sector when you compare the effects of operating with two-metre spacing as opposed to one-metre spacing,” King said. “For many smaller premises, as well as those who don’t have significant outdoor areas, it simply will not be viable to open with the two-metre rule.

“It’s no exaggeration that if the government does anything further to prevent pubs, bars and restaurants from opening on July 4, and doesn’t reduce social distancing from two metres to one metre, then there will be large numbers of job losses in the hospitality sector – as well as premises that probably never open again.

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“Everyone is looking forward to the day when some sort of normality returns to the country, but if the government doesn’t act fast then we won’t be toasting that moment in pubs and bars because most of them will have had to shut down.”

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