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Prototype reveals how pubs might look after Covid-19

Betsey Wynne, Swanbourne 4

Oakman Inns has reconfigured one of its premises to show what pubs might look like with social distancing measures in place.

The pub and restaurant group, which runs 20 sites in the south of the country, let Sky News cameras into the Betsey Wynne in Swanbourne, Buckinghamshire, over the weekend to reveal the prototype.

The revamped layout, guided by two-metre social distancing rules, sees the reinvention of the ‘snug’ with tables separated by transparent screens.

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Chefs were pictured wearing PPE, including gloves and shields over their faces. All workstations are two metres apart and kitchen staff will operate side-by-side or back-to-back rather than facing each other.

Customers will use disposable menus and orders will be placed using a phone app. Hand sanitiser stations will be placed throughout the premises, while a one-way system with a separate entrance and exit has been designed to minimise contact.

COO Dermot King said one of the advantages that this particular site has is its location and scale.

“This location here is over 4,000 square feet, we have got a kitchen space of over 1,100 square feet and I guess we have an advantage in that we can re-look at how we space out the pub itself. We have gone back to the CAD drawings and relaid out the pub with two-metre spacing in mind.

“It inevitably changes the way that we operate our business, it means that we have to lose the bar space completely – there won’t be standing at the bar, you won’t get served at the bar, it’s table service only. And we have to reengineer the whole customer journey right the way through the venue.”

Mr King said the Betsey Wynne could operate at around 70% of its previous capacity under the conditions it has modelled, largely because it has almost an acre of outdoor space and parking for 90 cars.

“We think a feature of pubs going forward will be those pubs that have massive outdoor spaces can make use of that and actually fill in the space that they are missing inside the pub itself. Inside the venue we would be losing about 30% of our capacity, but we still think we can operate at that level and we still think we can deliver a great experience to our customers at that level.”

Mr King added that where it wasn’t possible to ensure two metre spacing between tables, it has installed glazed panels so that there is segregation between customers.

“I think one of the features you will see in pubs going forward will be a reinvention of the snug, which is a thing that used to exist in the 50s, 60s and 70s, and that’s the kind of feel we are trying to recreate and reinvent. And the thing we are not trying to do is lose the essence of hospitality. In the end, we are a hospitality business and so you can’t make it a clinical environment; you have to feel like you are being served and you’re in a pleasant environment.”

Asked if the business could reopen today, Mr King replied: “It was welcomed that the government indicated that July 4th could be a date when some pubs could reopen and we are saying some pubs must be pubs that can operate at scale like our businesses can.

“I think you probably need a three-week lead-in in order to make sure that you can plan and retrain the team with sufficient time and get all the plans in place, but we would be ready to reopen at any time. If you gave us a three-week lead-in, we could be up and running.”

Meanwhile, Oakman Inns’ founder and CEO, Peter Borg-Neal, took to Twitter over the weekend to respond to tweets about the remodelled site.

Asked how viable it would be to lose 25% of its capacity if pubs are forced to operate under social distancing, he replied: “It will certainly mean a reduction in profit. We believe that this pub will still be viable – but not all of our estate will be. Regardless, the industry will need some easing of the restrictions and some financial help in order to get the majority of sites viable.”

Image credit: Oakman Inns

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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