After well over a year with minimal trade, for some pubs, this Summer could be their last hurrah. Many of us have built up savings and will be happy to go out and spend. For those pubs who can open, this could be a profitable few months. However, this short-term fillip may not last.
Over the last eighteen months, pubs have suffered – badly. During the last lockdown, our government banned pubs from selling beer in sealed containers while supermarkets and off-licences could sell alcohol to take away. This was grossly unfair, assisting the multinational brewers while simultaneously causing huge damage to our pubs. Takeaway sales, in sealed containers, were a lifeline for pubs during previous lockdowns, offering an opportunity to keep the doors open, continue to employ staff and welcome customers safely. Restricting that route to market could be the death knell for many pubs. As Louise Singleton, landlady of double CAMRA National Pub of the Year winning Kelham Island Tavern said, at the time: “Off-sales was a way of topping up in order for us to survive. In addition, pubs selling off-sales are more likely to support small and local suppliers.”
Pubs and breweries also have a major staffing problem as many experienced staff have moved to other things. This, coupled with the reluctance of some pub companies to employ sufficient staff is caused some long waits at outside table service. As Sheffield and District CAMRA chair Glyn Mansell said, after a visit to the Francis Newton: “On arrival we were seated and told we could order, but there was a 45-minute wait for drinks and an hour for food. We made double drinks orders. Finally, the food arrived, 15 minutes before the drinks. However, the next day, else where outside service was prompt and efficient.”
Over the last year, many brewers have attempted to diversify. Some will not return while others are hoping it won’t be too long before things return to some form of normality. However, rising costs, coupled with the effect of the pandemic will cause some breweries to fold. There are almost 2,000 listed in the 2021 CAMRA Good Beer Guide. There will be less in the 2023 edition.
In addition, changes in cross-border regulations have resulted in European online bottle suppliers raising shipping costs or simply ceasing UK delivery. The price of niche imported beers has risen and choice is suffering. European barley and hops are also becoming both more expensive and more difficult to source. There will be tighter margins throughout small innovative breweries and in the craft beer market.
Pubs, bars and breweries deserve a long-term, dedicated and sector-specific financial support package to make sure they do not have to close for good. They have fixed costs and have suffered many months of little income. The grants announced by the chancellor have been welcome, but they will not be enough to help all our pubs to survive.
As for the future, my guess is that, assuming there is no fourth wave, the number of breweries in the UK will fall by between 10 and 20 per cent. As for pubs, for some, Summer 2021 will be their last hurrah, before inevitable closure. The multinational property companies will buy some while others will never reopen. The overall number will fall.
I hope to be proved wrong..