Is this the End of the British Pub Crawl?

COVID-19 rules and restrictions are confusing to say the very least...

By Ben Brown | July 7th '20

© Joel Goodman

Let’s have a look back to this time last year.

Living our lives relatively care-free, we’d finish work on a Friday and head to a boozer nearby, have a couple in there, get a thirst for the sesh and then head to a few more bars, before ending up somewhere in the early hours, having a dance and looking forward to a Maccies on the way home.

Or maybe not.

Perhaps it was a Saturday and you’ve got up at 9am, put on some tutty, slung your glad rags on and headed to a venue offering Bottomless Brunch. After 90 minutes with a plate of Poached Eggs and 3 bottles of Prosecco you’ve left and want to continue the day. You all head off to more bars and pubs in the area, effectively hopping from place to place after one or two bevvies in each.

Sound familiar? Of course it does – these are the kinds of days and nights that we all cherish – an escape from the drudgery of work or an excuse not to drive down to DFS and confirm that your social life is effectively dead and buried.

We’re known as a nation of drinkers, and all of the positives and negatives that come with it. Are we fine with that? Do we drink too much? That’s a discussion for another day. What we’re discussing today is the two scenarios that I’ve set up above – and whether we will ever really get to do that again.

Most people you talk to will say “yes”, as in the current COVID-19 guidelines are just a temporary measure – a (rather confusing) set of rules that are in place to ensure that infection rates of the virus go down and hopefully – stay down.

But what are the guidelines? Well, the government’s response to most of this outbreak has been… how is the best way to say it… vague. Or elusive. Some would say shambolic. Others would say that they’ve done a bloody good job in an impossible situation.

What they have done though is publish this – Keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19 in restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services – a 43 page document that aims to give businesses everything they need to know before opening up again after lockdown.

Sure, there’s a long list of guidelines and best practices that will actually be useful for people who plan to open this weekend or shortly thereafter. But there are SO many things that can go wrong, are unclear or just plain contradictory that it may end up causing more problems than solving them.

The one I’m looking to talk about today is this one;

Calculating the maximum number of customers that can reasonably follow social distancing guidelines (2m, or 1m with risk mitigation where 2m is not viable, is acceptable) at the venue.

So, from this (and other guidelines) it’s clear that every venue from this Saturday will be operating at a much lower capacity than before, and as a result, bookings are being taken for tables for a maximum of 1 hour, 90 minutes or on some occasions 2 hours.

The reasoning behind this is obvious – businesses would like to get as many customers through the doors as possible, therefore justifying the opening in the first place and ensuring that they actually make some money.

Looking back at the first two scenarios though – this obviously creates a big, big problem.

British drinking culture dictates that most of us don’t actually stay in one place for a couple of hours and then go home – we ‘crawl’ from bar to bar, pub to pub, often for hours on end. Unlike our continental cousins – the great British Pub Crawl is a frighteningly frequent occurrence.

If the whole idea of social distancing and reducing infection is to limit the number of venues that people visit, limiting the number of people they come in contact with – most advice goes completely against that.

Let’s look at a very likely scenario for this Saturday. It’s a biggie so people want to go out and get back to it.

You’ve booked a table in one venue at around 5pm, another one in another venue at 7pm and then plan to head somewhere where they’re not taking bookings and you can see through the night.

Now, the sheer number of people that you’re going to come into contact with during that time is huge, and, here’s the kicker – with the government’s Track & Trace thingy – if any one of those people tests positive for COVID – the staff in those bars are going to have to self-isolate for 2 WEEKS.

That leaves a venue unable to open because of a lack of staff, meaning that they close again and we’re back to square one.

So, what’s the solution to what could potentially be an absolute shit show?! That is the multi-billion-pound question. Without hospitality venues open – that’s 4 million people still unemployed or on the furlough system, and billions of pounds per year not being spent by punters in venues.

Am I saying this is too early to start opening? No. Am I saying it’s stupid to open everything up on a Saturday? Yes. There are so many variables and possible dangers to the whole thing that it’s impossible to follow or even find a ‘best practice’ for businesses or customers.

The one thing that I do know though is that if it’s going to work, we the people will need to eradicate years of ingrained drinking culture out of our heads – shifting from the traditional ‘crawl’ to something much more stationary.

Can we do it? I’ll tell you on Sunday morning.