All set for Monday!

What you need to know when pubs re-open outside space from April 12

After what seems like an eternity (actually it was just before Christmas for many), pubs with outside space can start re-opening from Monday, with inside space due to re-open on May 17 if the Government’s roadmap goes according to plan.

The last and hopefully final lockdown for pubs lasted about as long as the first, which took effect from March 20, 2020 and lasted until July 4. Even when they could re-open pubs faced many restrictions, culminating in November with the ruling that only those serving “substantial meals” could continue trading which shut wet-led pubs such as the Royal Blenheim or Masons Arms. When I bade farewell to Blenheim landlord Steven Lyne that night in November and he said he feared not re-opening until the New Year, neither of us could have known it would really be after Easter.

Sorely missed….. The Royal Blenheim has no outside space so won’t be re-opening this month

But that’s water under the bridge now (or should I say beer down the drain) – what are the rules governing re-opening? This is how we understand it:

  • Pubs can serve outside only, and people must sit at tables to be served. But you can go indoors to use the toilet or baby changing facilities, and pass through if that’s the only way to access the garden. You can also go inside to pay if that can’t be done outdoors (a poor wifi signal, for example).
  • Outside space can offer shelter in the form of some kind of roof, but at least 50% of the “walls” should be open to the elements.
  • You must wear a face covering indoors.
  • In a change to previous rules, ALL customers must complete NHS Test and Trace details and not just one per party. You can do this using the NHS Covid-19 app, scanning the QR code that pubs must display, but if you don’t have the app then pubs must take your details in another way including arrival time and, if possible, when you leave.
  • Up to six people from different households can meet outside, but should be able to observe social distancing keeping at least one metre apart. Two households of any size can also meet outdoors.
  • Pubs can now serve takeaway alcohol, which they were banned from doing during the last lockdown (while supermarkets and convenience stores could do so unhindered).
  • Pubs can host live music events outdoors, but music must not be the “main reason” for the visit according to government guidance – so pubs can’t charge an entrance fee for this.
  • Despite talk of “Covid passports” to enter pubs, this doesn’t look likely to become policy for a long time, if ever. Many voices in the pub industry have opposed the idea, but individual pubs might see it as the way forward.
The Victoria Arms in Old Marston re-opens outside on April 12 bringing Butcombe beers to Oxford

So, visiting a pub is going to be a rather different experience for some time to come, but without our support many pubs won’t survive – especially small independents that don’t concentrate on food. The mood of national mourning following the Duke of Edinburgh’s death means that politicians probably won’t be prancing across our screens toasting our new “freedom” with pints of beer, but we should remember that pubs have been unfairly singled out for punitive restrictions both during and in between lockdowns. There has never been any compelling evidence that pubs have been responsible for more than a tiny percentage of Covid infections, yet they have faced long periods of total closure and unworkable rules at other times.

The pubs industry estimates that only 40% of venues will re-open from next week as the majority either don’t have outside space or not enough to make this work, but the situation locally could be rather better. A lot of pubs in and around Oxford do have outside space, and the city council has taken a positive stance by closing some streets to traffic to permit pavement seating including the top of George Street, St Michael’s Street, Broad Street and (for the first time) North Parade Avenue. This allows pubs and other hospitality businesses to have outside space for the first time, or to increase it.

But everything won’t be rosy in the garden from Monday, even before we consider the weather and the unsettled forecast. Even those pubs that do re-open will be mainly unable to trade profitably, and for this they will have to wait for the May 17 re-opening of indoor space or more likely for June 21, when hopefully all restrictions will end. It’s up to every one of us who value what pubs bring to society to support them as much as possible, despite the restrictions mentioned above and the advice to book ahead rather than just turn up.

Pub groups and independent businesses will have to make their own decisions, and many may decide to wait until May 17. We must support those who take the plunge and re-open their outside space, but remember to wrap up warm. See you down there!