David McDowall, COO of Scottish brewer BrewDog, says that its experience of reopening some of its venues in other countries where lockdown has already been lifted - and in Sweden where no lockdown was put in place, suggests that a one-metre rule would give businesses a fighting chance when they reopen.
In recent weeks BrewDog has reopened a venue in Oslo, which McDowall says traded at 50-60% of possible turnover in the first week, but which managed at 80% the following week. However, this was only possible because of the one-metre social distancing rule in Norway,
“An important learning is the distancing [in Oslo] is one metre,” he says. “When we worked out how many bums on seats we could get when we reopen [in the UK] at two metre social distancing, we would operate at 40% capacity. We could probably get to 70-75% of capacity with a one-metre ruling in place. This is something we need to be very mindful of as we build the guidelines in the UK.”
While The World Health Organization says that a distance of one metre is safe, it is understood that the UK Government is likely to impose a two-metre rule for hospitality businesses in line with the steps already taken by retailers in marking out spaces of two metres between customers.
McDowall says that its venue in Sweden, which chose not to close it hospitality businesses, is running at around 60% turnover. The company has also recently reopened sites in Germany and in Ohio. “We are starting to get some businesses back open in different markets and navigate the nuances within those markets.”
“Two metre distancing is very difficult; one metre is much more practical.”
McDowall says the Government has been slow to give hospitality businesses concrete guidance on what measures they might have to implement when they reopen, which has forced some to proactively take measures into their own hands.
BrewDog has introduced a 10-point action plan for when its venues reopen in line with what it believes the Government will require. Actions include contactless ordering via its order at table app; staff wearing face masks and gloves at all times; amended furniture layouts to create appropriate space; single-use menus; and surface cleaning every 15 minutes.
“We’re in a position we’ve never been in before. At various points in this journey the Government has been too slow to open up to the public and the business community about what the framework for reopening will or should be.”
“We got to the point where we couldn’t keep waiting for people to hand us a manual. Looking at what’s happening elsewhere, I don’t think we are going to be a million miles away from what we propose. Operators have to forge ahead and find solutions.”
In practical terms, he says that most pubs will initially only be allowed to operate on a table service only model and that there will be no standing at the bar.
McDowall has also called for intervention with the forthcoming rent payment for businesses, saying that if a solution isn’t found then social distancing measures will become irrelevant for many businesses. BrewDog is supporting Hospitality Union’s #Nationaltimeout campaign designed to alleviate the problem for hospitality businesses.
“As well as thinking about what reopening might look like, we are five weeks away from when due to pay June’s rent quarter. For us, that is £2m worth of rent with no income. If we don’t have some sort of intervention we wont be talking about how we reopen because 50% of businesses won’t be able to.”