‘Omicron forced us to close our pub 8 days before Christmas – we’ve been abandoned’ – Jennie Church

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With Covid-19 cases on the rise again, we felt it was the responsible thing to shut the pub on what should have been our most profitable time of year, writes pub manager Jennie Church

“Hospitality venues have worked hard to build up business again after constantly adapting to meet changing restrictions, and now we feel forgotten”

Today we closed our pub for Christmas eight days early.

We are opposite Guy’s Hospital in London Bridge, with a comedy club upstairs and a private function room off the main bar – both were due to be booked out almost every night this month. But throughout December we have been steadily losing bookings for the Christmas parties, which should be our most profitable time of year. On Tuesday we went from 120 expected covers to 30.

Then staff started testing positive for Covid-19. We decided the safest thing was to close, and (after a negative test result each) came in to start cleaning up and calling our remaining bookings to break the news. The response from our regulars has been uplifting; we’ve received many messages of support and kindness for our team, especially those facing a Christmas self-isolating.

However, the absence of support from the government hangs heavy.

Hospitality venues have worked hard to build up business again after constantly adapting to meet changing restrictions, and now we feel forgotten. While it’s nice not to be discussing whether a bowl of chips counts as a “substantial meal” (still undecided), the lack of guidance is stressful.

Jennie Church is the general manager of The Miller pub in Southwark, London
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Image:

Jennie Church)

There are no restrictions for pubs, but the message in this week’s announcement is clear: they aren’t safe. You have to wear a mask to go into a shop or to use public transport, but there are no rules for pubs.

There has been a complicated mixture of emotions behind the bar this week. Everyone was scared to catch or to spread Covid, we felt guilty that we were open when people were being told not to socialise, but we also felt that we had to stay open, from a responsibility to keep the business going, to make money to pay our staff and to keep their jobs safe.

We went with our gut feeling, that we had to put safety first and close our doors, and we decided to pay our staff for the shifts they would have worked next week. Not all businesses can afford to do this. We are lucky that we have understanding landlords who gave us rent breaks during the lockdowns.

The pub has now shut for what should have been its most profitable week of the year because of rising Covid cases
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Image:

Jennie Church)

Lots of businesses borrowed money in the early waves of the pandemic and now they need to make repayments. Supply costs and bills have gone up due to Brexit and rising fuel costs. We have been asking ourselves since the start of the pandemic if we can keep the pub going, and so far we have succeeded. But something needs to be done if business can be sustainable.

When restrictions were lifted earlier this year people rushed back to pubs and restaurants, and we saw how vital they were. Serving my first customer at the bar was joyous. It was a great feeling to see old friends reuniting, the camaraderie of after-work drinks, first dates unfolding, bar staff catching up with regulars; all little moments that make this work stop feeling like work.

When pubs shut down it’s not just those of us in the industry who miss out. And without furlough it will be independent pubs, their local communities, and the young people working in them who lose out first.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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