Some pubs won’t be opening their beer gardens on April 12, here’s why
It seems like good news. Pubs will be legally allowed to serve food and drink in outdoor spaces from April 12. It means a return to trade, to something like normality, but many pub landlords are saying it’s not worth opening up until May, when customers can finally come inside.
Many of those landlords are saying the unpredictable weather is keeping their beer garden gates closed. They don’t want to lose business to something they can’t control, and customers won’t turn up if it’s wet and windy.
Victoria Smith, owner of The Black Horse pub in Binsted, which won’t be opening until May 19, said she didn’t want customers to be stuck outside if the weather turned bad. “That’s the real reason. Its just not viable unless we can open up the whole lot. We have a great garden but, at the moment, it’s like being on the coast. It’s blowing a hooley because we get this great south easterly wind and, even though it looks nice, it’s cold..”
Donald Hoare, owner of The Lamb Inn in Pagham, said for many pub owners it is hard to justify preparing outdoor spaces for just a month of trade, especially after such a tough year. “I’m not necessarily talking personally, but I’m sure a lot of people are coming out of a hard year’s trading without the spare cash they need to organise their outdoor spaces.”
The Lamb Inn, a 17th century pub with plenty of garden space, is arguably in prime position to enjoy the April opening but Mr Hoare says he intends to stay closed until May as the only way to guarantee a positive experience for his customers.
“We’re blessed with lots of outdoor space” he said, “but what we can’t do is shelter and heat every part of that space. We can make provisions for a certain number of people, but it’s still only a certain number of people.”
Jane Huetson, who owns The Old House at Home in Chidham with her husband, agreed making the garden a viable place for business is simply not a realistic investment.
Mrs Huetson said: “If we wanted to make some kind of outdoor covered area to make up for the weather, we would never claw that money back. When it’s sunny, people don’t even want the umbrellas up. They aren’t going to want marquees all over the garden.”
Unlike The Lamb Inn, The Old House at Home has a fairly small garden, but, even so, the rules and regulations mean that she’d have to double her staff to serve customers safely and efficiently.
Between that, stock, general running costs, and the permanent ambiguity of business, she says opening up in April ‘doesn’t make economic sense’.
Mrs Huetson isn’t the only one who would have to wrestle with reduced business and increased running costs if she opened up next month.
Tom Richardson and Ollie Boulton, owners of The Three Moles pub in Selham, voiced similar concerns.
Their pub was voted Observer pub of the year in 2019 and it’s famous for serving real ales. The pair say that, once a keg is opened, it has to be used in three days. Alongside the costs of stock, staffing and general preparations, a wet weekend in April could land them with a prohibitively expensive amount of waste.
Ultimately, though, many of these businesses want to provide the best and safest experience they can for their customers, something that’s hard to do when it’s impossible to guarantee sunshine and too expensive to provide shelter.
Mr Richardson said: “A lot of our regulars are older and vulnerable, so we want to make sure that, whatever we do, it’s the safest way to do it for them. If that means waiting a few more weeks, that’s what we’ll do.”
Mr Boulton added: “The way we see it, we’ve been pretty stuffed for over a year. So what’s a few more weeks of waiting to be able to open properly? In the overall picture, maybe a few weeks isn’t really that much.”
For that reason, they’re optimistic for the season to come, even if they have to wait a little while to enjoy it.
Mr Richardson said: “We’re lucky where we are because we’ve got three campsites local to us, so with everyone doing their staycations, there’s a massive surge in people using the local campsites and bringing more tourism to the area. and we should do well out of that.”