It’s been ideal beer garden weather today. The number of Brits yearning for a pub meal in the sunshine is likely to be very, very large indeed. And it’ll only grow as the days get warmer in the run-up to the bank holiday weekend.
Alas, that al fresco burger ‘n’ pint will have to wait. But not, possibly, for much longer. England’s pubs and restaurants “could be given permission to sell food and drink from street stalls outside their premises in the coming weeks, as the government tries to reopen some sectors of the economy”, The Guardian reported yesterday.
That’s great news for shut-ins everywhere hungry for social interaction. And, more importantly, it’s a much-needed fillip for the hospitality industry, which won’t see outlets opening fully until early July at the soonest – and then only when enforcing strict social distancing.
How that might work for pubs has already been explored by Oakman Inns, which has “created a prototype aimed at enabling punters to safely enjoy a post-lockdown pint” according to Sky News.
The operator has redesigned the layout of The Betsey Wynne, its pub in Swanbourne, Buckinghamshire. It features a one-way system with separate entrance and exit, tables separated by screens, hand gel dispensers, and disposable menus. Customers will place their orders using an app.
Smart stuff! But it raises questions. Like, how much will such measures cost for beleaguered boozers? Who’s gonna do all the fixture fitting and app developing? And what happens when intoxication leads to a devil-may-care attitude towards social distancing?
That final concern is one that goes double for England’s supposedly impending street bars. Outdoors, screens and one-way systems are going to be harder to instigate and enforce. What to do? Serve only soft drinks? Limit people to one boozy drink? Both options seem neither appealing to patrons nor especially practical.
The government is hoping to allow for a “more vibrant style of continental town centres in the summer” The Sunday Telegraph revealed. It’s a charming ambition – but one that needs more thinking through if it’s to be realised safely.
The British Beer & Pub Association today warned that “thousands” of pubs “could collapse this weekend” without government support. But with deaths related to Covid-19 approaching 35,000, it looks like a significant amount of extra planning – and financing – is necessary before we can soak up some rays with a lunchtime lager.
He joined the magazine in January 2016 as food & drink editor, having been at financial & legal publisher LexisNexis.
Follow Daniel on Twitter: @danielmcselwood