Screens, sanitisers, and salty looks | What to expect from coronavirus bars

The time has come. Four months of lockdown in the UK has come to an end and the world is finally ‘healing’ as the public can now enter their local pub for a freshly poured pint.

For many, this day has been awaited and anticipated; a social experience cherished. But what are the bars actually looking like at the moment? What precautions have been made to make sure your favourite place for a late-night tipple is a safe environment? And what about the question that is swimming around in everyone’s minds for the first time in a long time – am I safe to go to the pub?

Candid Orange spoke with staff working at two bars at opposite ends of the spectrum: Fuel, an independent bar in Withington, Manchester and an upmarket chain located in central Manchester.

What is actually happening in the ‘coronavirus bars’?

Fuel is a small business that has chosen to open despite COVID-19. For some small chains like them, holding back is not an option. Many places in the UK, including leading pub chain, Greene King have opted out of opening immediately, despite the government’s green light. 

If you are worried about attending the pub, here is the low down on what to expect from the big boy chains to the small independents.

Fuel and a big chain in conversation with Candid Orange

WHAT PRECAUTIONS HAVE YOU TAKEN IN THE BAR?

FUEL – We have a screen at the bar separating the staff members and customers. We chose not to make our staff wear face masks. We have six hand sanitising stations and also use disposable cutlery and cups. The government tracking sheet is at the front of the bar for people to sign and we let people take their own drinks off the tray when we deliver the drinks to the table.

It is scary but we thought it was going to be busier than we thought on the opening night, so, at Fuel, I think we are in the good place in terms of coronavirus prevention.

CHAIN – We now wear disposable plastic visors, wash our hands and every ‘touch point’ in the building every twenty minutes. We also can’t travel to work in our uniforms but instead bring the clean uniform and change when we arrive. The number of tables and therefore capacity of the whole place has been reduced to try and stick to social distancing guidelines. Everything is now table service!

DO YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE WORKING DURING A PANDEMIC?

FUEL – I do but more so during the day. The evenings are trial and error. How are people going to act after 5/6/7 pints? It is completely unpredictable. No staff members have come back if they’re not comfortable.

CHAIN – Yeah, I do feel comfortable, especially with the current measures in place. But, people will become complacent. When social measures wear off, both staff and customers will slip back into pre-COVID habits.

For example, even by the end of my first shift back, staff had innocently enough ended up in contact with each other. Some of the more merry customers who were on separate tables ended the night all over each other.

HOW WELL DID PEOPLE FOLLOW THE RULES?

FUEL – The rules went okay. It was the younger people who were breaking them. Student wise (and I don’t want to stereotype) they weren’t particularly caring about the restrictions and when the table was full they would sit on the floor. It wasn’t too bad though and we were really surprised with how well it went.

People walk in and they feel clueless. We need to have that communication to make everyone feel at ease.

CHAIN – The rules were followed generally well with the managers politely enforcing them when necessary. At several points however, through no fault of their own staff and customers alike were not social distancing. When staff are criss-crossing in narrow spaces it is difficult to keep up with it. My role has doubled in tasks and it’s difficult to juggle five tasks at once with all the needed restrictions as well as serving drinks to a good standard at the same time.

ANY OTHER COMMENTS?

FUEL – For people who are concerned and are staying at home, I completely understand that. Completely understand that. You are coming out at your own risk, so stay in if you are feeling paranoid. Us as a small café we do feel relaxed. We are going for the 1m and a half rule and people should be able to go out and socialise with ease.

CHAIN – My only other comment would be that the hospitality industry would put people before profit. If a second wave were to arise, I, personally, would like the pubs to close again.

If you are wondering, if you are confused, or scared, or clueless, rest easier. The hospitality industry is putting in the precautions. The bigger busier chains have stricter measures and the smaller bars are being sensible. Doors are shut if capacity is breached. Welcome to the new normal.

Graphic courtesy of Isabel Armitage

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