Trade talk: How are UK venues navigating reopening during Covid-19?



04 August 2020

As venues embark on a ‘new normal’, Robyn Black and Millie Milliken spoke to UK operators large and small to see how they are feeling about reopening

Brodie Meah, Top Cuvée

Do you think that consumers who have now ordered wine for home from on-trade suppliers will change their perception of cost and value when ordering wine in a restaurant?

I don’t think so, people have always bought wine at retail and I think restaurant goers understand the difference between buying a bottle in a shop vs in a restaurant. From what I’ve seen, companies supplying directly to the public, who normally supply trade, have been wise not to undercut their wholesale customers in retail.

In terms of pricing menus at Top Cuvée, we’ve always aimed to be considered ‘good value’, so it will be a continuation of that. People don’t want to feel like they’re being extravagant whenever the economy is in a down swing, but they still want to go out. Wholesome dishes that don’t seem ‘fancy’, well-priced wines and familiar cocktails allow people to spend and have a great night without feeling guilty.

177B Blackstock Rd, London, N5 2LL;

Milly Hibbert, Thyme Hotel

How will your menu change when you reopen?

The menus are constructed differently from how they were before, designed for ‘dispersed dining’ while maintaining the Thyme experience. For breakfast, our guests will enjoy a basket full of homemade goodies. Lunch follows a similar concept with picnics to enjoy outside on sunny days or inside where spaces have been shifted around for inside picnicking, too. Dinner will become a ‘house supper’ – a nightly changing set menu served in the Ox Barn or around a kadai fire pit if the evenings prove warm enough!

Our drinks menu remains largely the same, but with homemade cocktails served in glass bottles and provided in basket bags, so our guests can take them on their wanders.

Southrop Manor Estate, Gloucestershire;

Clement Ogbonnaya, Prince of Peckham

Do you think pubs will be even more of a community hub once they can reopen?

The Prince of Peckham’s very makeup was to be a community hub. A space that caters for every layer of the Peckham community, primarily, but beyond that as well. With all that’s going on in the world, there is definitely more emphasis on communities and their structures.

I believe we will be even more integral post lockdown. Somethings will be different. Sports, for example, have always been a bonus for us and it definitely is a vibe when we show sports. We don’t show all games, or all events, just the ones we feel bring everyone together [but if we can’t anymore] I don’t think the loss will be that great, but we are adding great things to the pub, so I’m confident we will be fine.

1 Clayton Rd, Peckham, London, SE15 5JA;

David Burgess, Fugitive Motel

Are you going to continue offering drinks for takeout sales and if so, for how long?

When lockdown began, we re-opened our doors as a responsible bottle shop and it has gone really well. We added a delivery element, too, adding staple items such as flour and sourdough bread into the mix. At the start it was just about clearing product but it quickly became apparent that the product mix would need to shift slightly – no and low drinks as well as sour beers have done particularly well.

I’d say we’ve been able to talk to people and get to know the local community better during this period and that will inform some changes going forward − we will definitely be continuing with the bottle shop. We had always planned to use a section of the bar for retail, but we hadn’t managed to make the most of that, but now it’s here to stay.

199 Cambridge Heath Road, London, E2 0EL;

Monica Berg, Tayēr + Elementary

Will your menu immediately change when you reopen?

Our menu is heavily based on seasonality, so it will reflect the current season − but apart from that, it won’t change that much to be honest. The one big change will be our new Elementary Bottle Shop, where you will be able to buy bottled cocktails, beer and wine to take home.

In terms of the physical menu, this won’t be much of a change for us either, as we change the menu in Tayēr daily already − and in Elementary we will continue to have the menu on the board above the bar.

152 Old Street, London, EC1V 9BW;

Christian Townsley, North Brewing

Will you be changing your beer offering when you reopen?

At the start of the crisis, North Brewing was able to switch all packaging to cans overnight, enabling us to meet our customers’ needs for drinking at home. We also launched mini kegs, which we expect to continue after lockdown.

Our strategy for the bars is changing on an almost daily basis as the landscape changes and new guidance is announced. As to what we’ll off er and in what capacity, currently we’re planning to reduce our range a little in anticipation of lower footfall in general, so that we’re still moving stock quickly and keeping our beers fresh.

24, New Briggate, Northern Quarter, Leeds, LS1 6AQ;

Matt Todd, The Wonston Arms (CAMRA Pub of the Year 2019) 

Will your business become both on- and off -trade?

54% of the people who use our service, which we started as soon as lockdown began, have never stepped foot through the door of the pub. We off er same-day delivery four days a week, within an eight-mile radius, and it has been a massive success. In the beginning it was just about keeping in touch with customers and keeping the Wonston community going, but we’ve sold 13,500 pints of real ale since we started and we also sell gin, wine and some keg beers, too.

I’m determined there will still be a Wonston Arms after all this, but we will also definitely be continuing with off-licence and delivery sales even when the doors are open again – the future of this pub is a mixed model.

Wonston, Stoke Charity Road, Sutton Scotney, Winchester, SO21 3LS;

Owen Morgan, 44 Group

How are you planning on optimising costs with the projected downturn in customers?

Costs will absolutely have to be slashed − almost a whole new business model for us. Inevitably labour will have to be reduced, as it’s such a key cost, along with cost of sales and rent/rates. So, smaller teams.

This will very much mean smaller menus and much smaller wine lists. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as we will be able to adapt and change menus and lists a lot quicker, plus really focus on quality. But I would like to see suppliers − in light of this − offer more flexibility, for example smaller minimum orders and split cases. It all makes a difference, though it is easier said than done, I know. The biggest negotiation will be with landlords. Rents have to come down and open-minded discussion have to take place.

Venues in Bristol, Cardiff , Cowbridge, Penarth;

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