It feels surreal to say it, but it’s been more than 3 months since I wrote a very heartfelt and sickly sweet lament to my beloved pubs as the news broke that Coronavirus was forcing them to close. In fact, it’s been nearly 4. And how life has changed since that day, huh? Back then I was pretty convinced this was a two or three week thing. Maybe a month. I had no clue that I was about to enter a period of my life like no other. That I would not enter a building other than my own house for over 12 weeks. That I would go all this time without getting to hug my parents, have a drink with my friends or get to see Bailey playing with someone other than me or his Dad. That I would forget what I needed to carry in a handbag, or even why they existed in the first place. That Tuesday night Zoom quizzes would become the new weekend. And yet here we are, a whole 15 weeks later, only just about to step into a brave new world that involves pubs again!
I’ve felt many a thing in the run up to this day. I’ve felt relief that the world is starting to tentatively creep back towards the life we used to know. Anxiety that it may be too soon. Sadness that this means that in the very near future all the lovely family time Dan and I have been able to spend with our boy will come to an end. But most of all, I feel very emotional at the thought of my colleagues and old friends heading out there today, ready to open the doors for the first time in months and welcome us back into the fold. It’s exciting. We might not be out of the woods yet, but we’ve survived this far, and with lots of well known names announcing that they have gone into administration recently that’s no mean feat. I’m proud of us for weathering this storm, so I’ll admit there have been times when I’ve welled up thinking about it. But as much as it’s a day of celebration, I also know how nervous a lot of people will be, because unfortunately THE PUBLIC are not generally known for their care and compliance. Now, long time readers will already know this, but I’ve used capitals there on purpose. Yes, the term ‘the public’ basically applies to everyone, but when I refer to THE PUBLIC I’m specifically talking about that camp of people who seem determined to have a terrible time. They are all too common and well known to anyone who has ever worked in a service role, and make life hard at the best of times, never mind when there is a pandemic on, and I just know those who are preparing for their first shift back today will be dreading their first encounter with one. So I thought I would share some pointers for those of you heading out today in the hopes it will help you refrain from becoming one of THE PUBLIC… (WARNING: I will now morph into a rather snarky, sarcastic bit of a bitch and will probably get right on your tits from here on in, but try to remember that if you are a generally respectful person, this isn’t aimed at you!)
I will cover many topics throughout this
rant polite request that you consider the impact of your behaviour on others, but all of it comes down to one very important thing, and it’s a thing I urge everyone to remember as they head back out into the world today – Shit. Happens. It just does. Hell, this pandemic itself is the ultimate proof that extreme shit can indeed happen, to anyone, at any time, and normally when you least expect it. Some things, as annoying and sometimes upsetting as they are, just happen and aren’t actually the fault of anyone. And I know that pubs seem like a magical place where the drink runs freely and the Gods of fun smile down on us, but they are not immune to the odd occurrence of shit. In fact, shit has a horrible tendency to happen when you have most been looking forward to something, so I have no doubt that many of you who have been waiting for this day with much anticipation are inevitably going to fall victim to some shit. It’s ok to be pissed off about it, because you can’t control how you feel, but please try to remember that you do have control over how you choose to respond, and this is the key thing that saves you from joining the dreaded ranks of THE PUBLIC. We have all seen and experienced some terrible things in the last few months. People have lost jobs, been hospitalised, in the worst cases had to bury their nearest and dearest, and undoubtedly there are some serious questions to be asked about how we’ve found ourselves in such dire straits. It taking rather longer than usual to get served, though? Your favourite dish not being on the reduced menu or your usual beer selling out? Having to sit at a table instead of your normal spot at the bar? These are all just examples of shit happening right before your very eyes. Sure, they may be frustrating, and you will be well within your rights to give feedback or maybe choose not to go back again. But summoning hellfire and brimstone on the nearest member of staff over something that he or she cannot do anything about is just a dick move, and really helps no one right now. In fact, it doesn’t really help anyone, ever, so this is really something you should look to avoid, you know, for the rest of your life? Just an idea….
Some more things to remember:
Time and space are still time and space…
As mentioned earlier, pubs sometimes seem like a magical fairyland at times, a bit like an alternate universe where you are suddenly rich, always look good and can now inexplicably sing a pitch perfect rendition of Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, but it’s a little known fact that pubs actually follow the same rules of time, gravity and logic as everywhere else. There are some very simple equations that you need to know any time you visit a bar or restaurant, the most important being this: more customers = more time to serve and less space to sit. In this current climate that equation becomes more customers / social distancing + lots of new technology and guidelines = even more time to serve and even less places to sit. Hopefully you have been sensible and pre-booked which will guarantee you a table. If you have decided to chance it, no problem, but that may well mean you can’t get in, and that is your own fault, no one else’s. If you do manage to secure your spot, please remember that this is all new to everyone. Staff will not be used to working under these new conditions and it will undoubtedly put pressure on service. They will have returned to work with new technology to get to grips with, new table plans to memorise and extra steps to undertake in their normal service cycle – things will go wrong and things will take longer than usual. Be patient. Try to think of this as a dry run rather than the most important social occasion of your life and be prepared for teething issues. You may well have a limited slot at your table, and this might mean you don’t get to have pudding or you didn’t get to drink as many Pornstar Martinis as you wanted, but that is going to be the reality while we get used to this new normal. If you turn up expecting you are going to have a flawless experience, you are most likely going to be disappointed, and again, that’s on you. The staff will want you to have a good time, but right now their priority is keeping people safe, not running to your unrealistic schedule. And for the love of God, don’t add to the stress by being that person who insists they’ve been waiting an hour when it’s actually been 20 minutes, or refuses to give up the table when their two hours is up because they don’t think it’s fair that they ‘lost’ 10 minutes while it was cleared and sanitised. Basically, don’t be a dick.
Stock is not infinite…
As should be obvious, no one really knows what to expect this weekend. Half the world thinks it will be some hellish version of Sodam & Gomorrah with crazed punters running amok, all pumped up on Stella and a childlike excitement at being allowed out again. The other half can’t imagine why anyone in their right minds would want to go out right now and fully expect a ghost town. The truth is, we just don’t know. Bookings seem to suggest a healthy interest, but people may have just booked thinking they can decide how they feel on the day (don’t do this, by the way, ever, it is an incredibly selfish thing to do and causes real problems for the industry, especially smaller independents. Always cancel your table with plenty of notice if you aren’t going to go so they can give it to someone else, or you are literally costing them money) and there is no way of knowing whether it’s all just initial excitement that will peter out after a few days as it has with the queues we saw outside Primark. Needless to say, this makes it very difficult to judge how much stock they need to order. An estimated 70 million pints of beer alone had to be poured away during lockdown, so businesses simply cannot afford to be generous in their estimations of how much they’ll sell – there is only so much space in the cellar anyway, and no one can afford to have any more stock not sell or go out of date. This will mean the offerings may have been slimmed down and there is a high possiblity some lines might sell out while they work out what their trading patterns look like for the forseeable. It is literally guess work and not a reflection on the planning capabilities of the manager, so if you only drink one brand of vodka and can’t bear the thought of drinking anything else, it is probably a good idea to keep drinking it at home until the new normal has become a little clearer. Basically, don’t be a dick.
Bar staff are people…
You could be forgiven for believing we actually live in a dystopian Sci-Fi nightmare these days, but nevertheless, the people serving you are not emotionless robots sent here to obey your every whim – they are real live, human beings. Human beings who, just like you, have been through a hell of a lot in the last few months. Contrary to popular belief they haven’t been on an extended ‘holiday’. For the majority it has been a scary and upsetting time counting every penny and hoping there is a job to go back to at the end. Pub people are normally, by nature, social butterflies and workaholics, and several months confined to their homes will have been tough. Many of them will still have been busy engaging with their loyal customers on social media, hosting quizzes, keeping on top of the gardening and clearing the car parks, trying to boost morale in their teams and think up ways to encourage people back once they got the green light. And most importantly, they will have spent weeks trying to get their heads around how on earth they will make this new normal work. So don’t go acting like they have had it easy compared to those of you who have been working throughout, because they haven’t. This isn’t a, ‘I’ve been working hard so now it’s your turn to suffer’ scenario. It’s not a competition in who has it worse. For many, coming back to work at all will have been a frightening experience, not just because they don’t know what to expect, but because they have vulnerable ones at home, maybe have anxiety for their own health and are painfully aware there is still a deadly virus out there. I’m sure you remember what that felt like in the early days, so please bear this in mind. Basically, don’t be a dick.
Feedback is a gift…
Good businesses thrive on listening to the feedback from their customers, and just because things are different and tough right now doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be concerned about hearing your thoughts, but there are ways of going about this. Firstly, don’t ‘feedback’ on the new legislation. If you disagree with social distancing or don’t like the Government’s stance on face masks, there is no point trying to discuss that with the manager. There is literally nothing they can do, and their own opinion on the matter is irrelevant. Bo Jo is the only person that should be expected to justify or explain these things to you, bar staff, shop workers, bus drivers and the like are not his foot soldiers and shouldn’t have to police you. Just do as you are told on that front, and stay away if you can’t. If however, you have some valuable and insightful (i.e something that isn’t stating the obvious – I’m pretty sure if they are all running around like headless chickens they don’t need you to recommend they try getting more staff in…) you should definitely have a (friendly) chat with the manager and I’m sure they’ll appreciate your thoughts, or may be able to explain why what you expected wasn’t possible. Do me a favour though, and do it in person. If it’s too busy to do it at the time, pick another day or find out their complaints procedure. Don’t go starting a smear campaign all over social media in an attempt to get them ‘cancelled’ because you found your visit in a time of crisis ‘less than satisfactory’. This industry has suffered enough and many businesses won’t be reopening as it is – allow them the time to get back on their feet and learn from the inevitable mistakes they will make along the way. Basically, don’t be a dick.
You don’t have to go…
Not everyone is raring to get out to the pubs and that is ok. It is perfectly understandable that you may not feel safe right now. Give it a few weeks and see how it goes and maybe you’ll feel more confident in time. There are other ways you can support your local businesses in the meantime and Laura at Bite Your Brum has written a great post full of ways to do so here. Pubs are far less at risk from those of you who aren’t ready to take the plunge than they are from those who can’t wait to get back but are expecting normality. If going to the pub is extremely important to you, if you want it to be just like the old days and it’s going to ruin your life if it isn’t, then just don’t go. Certainly don’t go and then spend the whole time crying that it ‘isn’t the same’ – SPOILER: IT WON’T BE THE SAME, so I can save you the trouble of finding out right now. And to be frank, the rest of us who have the common sense to realise this don’t want to have to spend our precious two hour slot listening to you whine about it. Negativity breeds negativity and before you know it you’ve ruined the experience for everyone in earshot. Pubs need our money, yes, but they need our patience and understanding more than anything. So if that isn’t something you can give, stay at home, especially if you want that pub to still be there in a years time. Basically, don’t be a dick.
So, 2500 words in and I’ve just realised I could have just written ‘Don’t Be A Dick’ on a blank page and been done with it, but you all know how I like to waffle… and now there isn’t really anything else to say but Good Luck! Good luck to those of you opening up today, and good luck to those of you chomping at the bit to savour your first pint. May the tills be full, the customers sensible and afternoon full of joy and fun times. I’ll be joining you in the not too distant future, until then – CHEERS!