Our take on the coronavirus impact on UK micropubs

There’s a couple of things we’ve been meaning to talk about. One, the age old keg vs cask debate and just what exactly defines a micropub. Two, coronavirus.

Unsurprisingly we opted for the easier option this week so COVID-19 here we come.

Firstly, for each and every micropub and microbar out there, our thoughts are with you in these times. It has been an absolute rollercoaster for a lot of businesses, but those in the pub industry especially. Micropubs by their very nature are small, owner operated businesses. Most have very few staff, some have no staff other than the owners. For most owners it’s a labour of love, and not a licence to print money. As such any closure is going to hit their pockets. This lockdown, and yes we will call it a lockdown, is already hurting a lot of micros.

COVID Timeline for pubs

We’ve been speaking to a number of micros about this and about what they are doing to get through this. Many have had to adapt and diversify, very quickly, as this situation has been developing so fast. We’ve put together the following infographic with a timeline showing pub related government coronavirus announcements:

COVID timeline showing impact on pubs in the UK
COVID Timeline Infograph

As things currently stand (10 Apr) – the 25 Mar guidelines still apply – you can see latest guidelines here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close-guidance

In between the government also announced a financial support package, including business rate relief, job retention schemes and a grant specifically aimed at the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure industries. There has also been support from some unlikely places with the likes of Budweiser releasing their Save Pub Life scheme to match fund vouchers for pubs (don’t worry, you don’t need to spend it on lager!)

Micropub’s stories

So to say things were moving fast is an understatement. Micros all of a sudden sat with a lot of stock and not much to do with it. Some very quickly started doing takeaways, some decided to just shut down all together.

Here are some of their stories.

Garvan from The Drapers Arms

“We decided to go to off-sales only the day after the original restrictions came in. When the lockdown was announced the following week we closed. When off-sales were added – we reopened for two days to clear our existing stock. We finally closed on the 26th – and that’s us for the duration.

We had a fantastic response to becoming an off-licence, at the time. We were very apprehensive after Johnson’s announcement on the 16th “to avoid pubs” as we had 6 open casks with various amounts left in them, on the premises and twelve unopened ones; so we thought we might get our fingers very badly burned.

On the Tuesday, we decided to sell it all off at £2 a pint to clear the stock – take away only, advertised it on Facebook (FB), asking punters to bring their own containers (we had a few 4 pint carriers, that didn’t last long). We were too successful – we nearly completely sold out by the Friday – so I went to another local micropub, Chums and bought 4 more casks off them and then collected another couple of casks off a local brewery.

We announced (again, on FB) that Friday we’d cleared our residual stock and we were going to continue with off-sales – at ‘normal’ prices (£3.50 per pint, with discounts for larger containers down to £3) over the weekend. All went very well. 

Then on that Monday (23rd) we placed a few of orders but after that evening’s announcement – and the legislation published on Tuesday 24th did not include off-sales for licenced premises. We cancelled all orders and closed that night.

The next morning they announced that Licensed Premises with an off-sales licence COULD actually continue – so we reopened on the Wednesday and Thursday nights – sold 90% of what we had left and then packed it in completely for the foreseeable. 

I think the Government support is commendable – it’s a bit crude and like any emergency legislation the “one size fit’s all” policy never suits everyone. However, I think many micropubs will be lucky in one way – and also unlucky in another.  I would suggest a very large percentage (90% plus?) of established micropubs will qualify for the £10k grant – a real boon for a small business. Some will miss out when their rent includes rates and the Landlord/Property owner will get the money – but not many. However, many micropub owners will not have much opportunity to avail of the PAYE support, many paying themselves through drawings, dividends etc. and only having a few casual staff. If this lasts two months we’ll all be laughing about it. Six months or more? A different story.

We decided to let things calm down (possibility get worse with more draconian measures?) and we’ve mothballed the business. I think these restrictions will be lifted gradually – with pubs the very last of businesses to be ‘freed’. I think they might open libraries and churches before boozers! There is a school of thought that they’d stagger the opening of Licenced Premises by size and type. Should a 3,000 venue nightclub be allowed to open the same day as your local micropub with a capacity of 30? However, I think licenced premises  will remain restricted for some time after schools, colleges, parks, children’s playgrounds, churches, garden centres, country parks, libraries, leisure facilities, dog groomers, estate agents, theatres, cinemas, yada, yada get the green light!”

Rob from The Old Post Office Bar

“We are thinking of new ways to create an income. Unfortunately we are not eligible for the self-employed income support scheme as we have not been trading long enough!

We have the go ahead from our local licensing department to officially do off-sales and delivery and also using online and an app based platform – https://www.mylocaldelivers.com/. Through Budweiser, people can also buy a voucher which they then match and send us the money straight away. This is only valid up to £1,000 worth of sales and after that they do not match”. https://savepublife.com/collections/england/products/the-old-post-office-la6-3aa

Margaret from The Samuel Oldknow

“The Samuel Oldknow in Marple have a high rateable value of over £15,000.  We therefore are not attempting to open as a bottle shop at this time although we could, as we already hold a licence, but we are remaining closed. We hope that this way we can take advantage of the £25,000 Grant offered by the Government.

We are currently paying our employees 100% of their wages and claiming them as “furloughed” in order to claim back 80% of their wages once the system is set in place.

Two directors + another family member are in isolation together at home and are therefore travelling and working together at the bar most days doing repair and renovation work that cannot be done when the bar is open. 

We have contingency plans for 3 months with which we can ride the storm but will have to look at figures again if the situation carries on a lot longer.”

Emma from All Hail Ale

“We find ourselves in new and uncharted territory. These are indeed, challenging times and as a business, we are doing what we can to survive.

After the government announcement, we closed our doors but when the government announced that they were going to let off licences open, we jumped at the opportunity. So now we are open as an off-licence and are open from 4 – 8 pm Monday – Friday, for takeout only.

We are limiting customers to 4 at a time only in order to maintain social distancing.

Our beers and ciders are available in bottles and cans. We also have one beer on cask for takeout and a few beers on keg and encourage people to bring their beer containers with them. We do, however, also provide a 2 pint container for those that don’t have a container.

We have been doing fine with the off licence, not doing as well with the pub being closed. Even though we have not made our normal monthly target, we haven’t been doing too badly. At least we are open and ticking over, which is the main thing. We are doing what we can to stay open and our beer availability is on our facebook page.”

Tim from Elbowroom Alehouse

“We are fully closed and are not planning to open again until we are allowed to and judge it is safe. We did briefly provide a takeaway only service between the official pub closures and lockdown. I was amazed at how popular the takeaway service was. We called it Elbow (in your living) Room. It was a difficult decision to shut it down but staff and safety come first.

However, we wanted our staff to benefit from the furlough payments and I am unfortunately in the vulnerable section so we decided it wasn’t worth the risk for me and my wife to continue running the takeaway service on our own. It’s a real shame but we have every intention of opening again at some point.”

Ian from Orb Micropub

“It hit hard having to close ORB Micropub following the announcement by the government, as I’m sure it did for many businesses.  The short notice we had from the announcement to closure left us with quite a lot of cask, 6 hand pulls, and two keg lines that would have gone to waste. 

We decided that over that weekend we would open for an hour each day and asked our customers to bring along any containers they had and they could have up to 4 pints for a donation to our chosen charity St Teresa’s Hospice. We were allowing only two people in the pub at a time ensuring social distancing and hand hygiene of all entering with a hand sanitiser dispenser to be used before ordering. 

We did get a visit from the police on the Sunday as someone had reported that we were still open and serving people, however, once we explained what we were actually doing there wasn’t a problem.  This proved very popular and all of the beer went by the Sunday raising about £300 for the charity.  We did have some very unusual containers being used from 300ml water bottles up to 5 gallon drums, people were being very resourceful!

After that weekend of varying emotions from the upset of the closure to being so humbled and proud of our customer’s generosity for our charity, we were unsure what to do next.  We considered a takeaway/delivery service but were concerned about cash flow to buy stock and unsure of the sales we would achieve. We, therefore decided to just see how the situation progressed for a week or so. 

Now we are here it is evident that this lockdown and closures will remain in place for several weeks and possibly months and we have to do something or face complete closure of the business.  Of course, we will be grateful for the support provided by the government through rates grants and the job retention scheme, but that will only see us through 6-8 weeks. 

We have signed up for the Save Pub Life Scheme – https://savepublife.com/collections/england/products/orb-micropub-dl3-7rg-gift-card – and will also be offering pay it forward tokens to our customers.  We are maintaining contact with our customers though social media and will be stepping this up with activities and competitions to keep our ORB community together.  We are also considering trying to raise cash flow income through selling ORB merchandise online, with a sort of “Save our pub” strapline.  And of course we will be following the UKMicropubs community for any other ideas.

It is such a strange and surreal time for us all in the industry, one which may claim a lot of pubs, but at ORB we are determined to come through this with the support of our customers and we are so looking forward to the party once it’s over.”

Let’s all get through this

We wanted to say thank you to all that’s taken their time to talk to us. There are a few more who wasn’t ready for their stories to be shared, suffice to say we heard some very sad stories and we really do worry that not everybody will come out of this.

So from us here at UK Micropubs, we simply ask for two things:

Firstly, support your small local independents. Whether it’s a micropub, microbar, craft beer bar, gin bar, prosecco bar, hell even a cocktail bar. They need your support now more than ever and they will need your support when they re-open. So if you can, buy their takeaways, buy their gift vouchers, buy their merchandise and/or if you can’t, share their social media posts, like and follow their pages, and just let them know that once they re-open you will be there en masse. We all know there will be some major celebrations, so let them know you will #flockdown after this is all over.

Secondly, just follow the government advice and just stay home. I’m sure they are as keen as we are for this to be over. The sooner everybody follows the advice the sooner the lockdown will end and the sooner your local will be able to re-open.

Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.

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