'It's frozen us in limbo': On-trade reacts to restriction on takeaway alcohol during second lockdown

Clinton Cawood

Clinton Cawood

02 November 2020

In the wake of the PM's announcement that hospitality venues are to shut again dur to Covid-19, Clinton Cawood talks to the on-trade about the specific exemption of alcohol for takeaway

When UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a second lockdown for England, hospitality venues received a special mention – and not in a good way. The list of new restrictions specifically prohibited sales of takeaway alcohol, which has been helping some bars to stay afloat this year.

Liverpool’s Botanical Garden is one of them. ‘Takeaway sales have very much been a lifeline to us this year,’ says director Pedro Hunter.

The restrictions are very much forcing businesses to invest in click and collect services or delivery systems again, which... adds another barrier to purchase... It’s frozen us in limbo

Pedro Hunter

After starting out with deliveries, using an old Land Rover with a freezer fitted into it, the bar moved to collection instead. Now it’ll need to move back to deliveries, with the associated costs. ‘The restrictions are very much forcing businesses to invest in click and collect services or delivery systems again, which shaves heavily into the bottom line, and adds another barrier to purchase which isn't needed at this time. It’s frozen us in limbo,' says Hunter.

The Liar’s Group’s Adam Wilson is also aware of the financial impact of deliveries versus takeaways. ‘We get hit really hard with delivery charges when we're limited to that method of service. We lose about 25% of the revenue just in transaction fees, which hits our GP in a pretty big way and leaves us with the choice of either charging more for the same stuff than we would for collection, or losing out on revenue by keeping the prices lower,’ he says. ‘It seems ill-thought out, considering there aren't any limits on off-licenses operating and we're likely to be left with a load of stock that's going to need to go somewhere.’

Wilson’s plan is to offer litres of frozen Margaritas for delivery, although has concerns that these won’t be competitive compared to supermarkets and their delivery services. 

Wilson’s plan is to offer litres of frozen Margaritas for delivery, although has concerns that these won’t be competitive compared to supermarkets

Takeaway drinks have been essential to Dark Bear in Bridport’s survival in the past few months. ‘Without them we would have closed up for good. It was so popular that it's now become a big part of our business especially being a smaller bar so guests are less likely to visit with the restrictions,’ says co-founder Lloyd Brown.

‘If we can deliver we will get by, but it will really hamper things. We are in a rural area so cover a wide area to deliver anyway and do rely on collections so we don’t fill up all of our delivery slots. On top of that many of our customers may be out at work and with IDing essential on the door to deliver their cocktails we have to make return trips or they may miss out.’

Sun Tavern in London’s Bethnal Green has made takeaway drinks a greater part of its offering since March, with its series of guest bartenders serving takeaway cocktails, beers on tap and mini kegs from its hatch. This was added to the bar’s existing off-licence service, which previously offered Irish spirits, but was extended in March to include bottled cocktails, wine and cocktail kits.

‘Now that it's a bit colder and the restrictions have been changed we'll be focusing on delivery and click and collect,’ says Andy Kerr of The Sun Tavern’s parent company, The Umbrella Project. ‘We were anticipating this lockdown so spent the past couple of weeks ramping up our online offering, so that everything's ready to go for Thursday.’

Josh Roberts of East River in Liverpool is expecting the new restrictions to have an impact on the business. ‘A lot of our trade during lockdown last time came from collection of drinks so it will inevitably affect us. It makes no sense to stop us from selling alcohol when it’s still available in supermarkets,’ he says. ‘All this uncertainty means we can’t plan and it’s eventually going to lead to the permanent closure of many bars and restaurants.’

It makes no sense to stop us from selling alcohol when it’s still available in supermarkets

Josh Roberts

At Top Cuvée in London, takeaway alcohol sales have been important to the business too. ‘It’s been a great boost, while the restaurant has been mostly busy, the constantly changing restrictions has definitely knocked people’s confidence around coming out,’ says Brodie Meah. 

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), meanwhile, has responded strongly to the new restriction. ‘Offering alcohol for takeaway was a lifeline for many pubs, and particularly breweries, during the first lockdown in England. It is a baffling and damaging decision to remove this option, particularly when other businesses such as supermarkets can continue to sell takeaway alcohol,’ said national chairman Nik Antona.

‘Pubs and breweries were already reporting losses and the risk of closure before Christmas, and this will only add to the risk of permanent closures within the next few months. CAMRA and the entire pub and brewery industry are now urging the Government to reverse this bizarre decision and ensure the survival of our pubs and breweries.’

CAMRA has set up a site to allow consumers to email their MP to request the removal of the takeaway restriction, as well as request better support for pubs and brewers.  

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