As a sense of uncertainty continues to pervade pertaining to the future of the hospitality industry amid the continuing presence of COVID-19 within the community, local pub proprietors have expressed their continued frustration as they strive for a return to a semblance of business normality as news emerged this week that the Government and NPHET will review their decision with regard to the reopening of relevant premises on August 31.
Due to reopen en masse on August 10 with the expected commencement of the final phase on the Roadmap to Recovery for Society and Business, news that such an eventuality was not to occur was greeted with much dismay by local publicans, the majority of whom had spent innumerable hours preparing their premises to reopen on the date in question.
As a wealth of pubs endured their fifth month of closure this past weekend, a #SupportNotSympathy social media campaign implored the Government for financial support when the date arrives on which the affected trade reopens to welcome much needed custom.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser this week, John McDermott, Proprietor, The Castle Inn, noted his welcome return to a trading environment, his decision to serve food on site allowing the business to reopen.
“Our doors were closed to the public on March 14, prior to what would usually be an extremely busy St. Patrick’s Day in The Castle Inn and we were looking forward to hosting our customers in The Vault which is our new extension to the existing premises,” John remarked.
As the days and weeks progressed with no clarity emanating with regard to the reopening of The Castle Inn, John and his partner Wanda, endured a “frustrating” period, unsure as to when they would return to a working environment which has been immensely rewarding.
“I have been working in The Castle Inn for a period of 15 years, 10 years as the leaseholder, and to be closed for such a length of time was mentally tough and stressful for all the staff working in the pub.
“Not being able to meet and interact with our customers on a regular basis was a surreal experience and when we finally reopened our doors on August 7, welcoming back familiar faces was a boost,” John enthused.
With the formal announcement that the ‘wet’ pub trade would remain closed for the foreseeable future, John made the conscious decision to form a business alliance with Portside Restaurant, the offering of prepared meals onsite, enable The Castle Inn to return to trade.
“Wanda and I had discussed the idea of serving food on site and when the news was announced that ‘wet’ pubs would remain closed, we decided to progress with our plans forming a relationship with Portside Restaurant to enable the reopening of our business,” John added.
Business has been brisk upon reopening with pre-booking advised for those who wish to sample The Castle Inn atmosphere.
“We have a number of food options on the menus for those who would like to call in, but pre-booking is advised at this time. Our customers can be assured that the necessary public health and safety guidelines have been implemented with the installation of protective screens (adhering to social distance measures ) and hand sanitisers, while all staff will be wearing PPE when serving,” John asserted.
John has called upon the Government to afford due support to the industry upon its full return to business but is of the opinion that the trade will not open for at least six to nine weeks.
“While I welcome the Restart Grant Plus announcement and the return of paid rates from 2019, the industry will require further financial support when it finally returns to normal trade,” John concluded.
Echoing similar sentiments, Robert Fleming, Proprietor, The Malt House, located on the town’s main thoroughfare, Church Street, spoke of his disappointment when hearing that the ‘wet’ pub trade would remain closed post August 10.
“With COVID-19 figures on the increase, I was expecting such news and it was no surprise when it was formally confirmed. It remains a period of immense frustration for all affected publicans to be closed since mid-March, in particular during the high season when custom would be usually brisk,” Robert commented.
With five employees, Robert has been at the helm of The Malt House for seven years and is of the view that ‘wet’ pubs should be allowed to reopen with immediate effect as the numbers crossing the business threshold would be manageable.
“We could operate our trade within a safe environment with the implementation of necessary public health and safety measures, while controlling the number of customers entering and exiting the pub within a specific time allocation.
“Small business are more controllable than vast operations in the present climate and I would hope that a date for reopening is realised in the near future,” Robert stressed.
With optimum space available, Robert stated that he could host customers on site while adhering to social distancing measures, but has opted not to offer food options to enable a reopening of his business.
“While we have a kitchen on site, I do not envisage reopening offering customers a food option, but I may have to re-evaluate the situation should relevant reopening clarity not be forthcoming,” Robert stated.
Government financial support is of the essence as the industry strives for a return to economic viability, the fall out from a summer without trade having a detrimental impact on publicans.
“I would be calling upon the Government to financially assist publicans at this time. Our industry continues to be severely impacted by COVID-19 and as the future for the pub trade remains uncertain, relevant support afforded is essential now and in the coming times,” Robert concluded.