Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Reopening the pubs — 'the customers will have to follow the rules'

Marian, Billy, Sean, Lorraine, and Tommy, ready to welcome.
Finally in a real countdown to getting the doors of The Spout open again, after several false starts, Tommy Dignam and Marian Courtney and their crew are all set to meet their customers again, writes Brian Byrne.

The enforced closure has provided opportunity for some significant renewal in the popular hostelry. Apart from changes needed to be able to operate safely for staff and customers, there have been significant improvements. These include a complete refurbishment of the Gents toilets to match the excellent Ladies which had been completed just before lockdown.

Moving furniture also gave the chance to redecorate sections, and a new feature wall with some serious racing memorabilia fits in nicely with one of the traditional interests of the regular clientele. The beer garden used by smokers has also been upgraded, and is now an attractive 'lounge' area in the back in its own right.

All in all, The Spout will look really fresh when the first customers cross through the door at 10.30am on Monday. They will see some significant differences, though. Tables and seats have had to be repositioned to allow for 2-metre distancing, and there will be no bar service. "It will be strictly table service, under the guidelines," says Tommy, whose commentary on the Diary during the summer about the Government 'dividing' the pub business struck chords around the country at the time. "We've had to bring in extra staff to manage this, and to make sure the guidelines are adhered to."

All customers will have to register with contact numbers when they arrive. Masks will be required while entering and leaving, and also while going to the toilets or the beer garden. "There will be no standing around allowed, either in the bar or the beer garden. And no moving between tables by individuals in different groups."

That last is going to be particularly difficult, 'as all our customers know each other'. "But to make this work, we're depending on our customers to come along with us, to follow the rules. It's in all our interests that they do, and there's going to have to be a bit of give and take. Otherwise …"

He didn't have to complete the thought. The one on everyone's mind. That, locally or regionally, we'll all have to go through the same thing again. "But I think most people know all about Covid now, and how it has to be kept at bay. And I think customers will want their local pubs to stay open."

Under the guidelines, the pubs will have to be cleared by 11.30pm. Tommy has concerns about this, because what happens outside the pub after that will not be in The Spout's control. "I think they should have built in some flexibility in closing, so that people wouldn't be gathered outside all at the same time. You're going to get groups in the street, the chippers are going to be rushed with customers. If it goes wrong, they'll blame us." He believes there'll be a responsibility on the gardai to encourage people to move on when the pubs have closed, and he will be discussing the matter with them.

Beyond the reopening, Tommy is adamant that the trade will require significant support from the Government if it is to survive as a major asset to the very functioning of the State in its taxation and employment contributions. "We're being allowed reopen now, but we have lost half a year of business and income, and we're heading into the quieter part of the year. We need some definite proposals on support here, and we haven't heard any yet."

Monday next, 21 September, will be a positive start to a chapter in an industry book that so far makes very sad reading. It's a long way yet to any happy ending.

But, 'slainte' anyway, to everyone. In every sense of the word. 

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