Working from home is all very well in these Covid times, but it’s important to make sure the house and the school run don’t become the extent of your pared-back existence – a particular danger in this era of home delivery. Hence the decision to vary life a bit by taking the family out to a local restaurant.

I was intrigued to see how the establishment in question – known for serving decent enough food and having excellent service – would go about making our visit Covid-safe. It started well enough, with a big sign at the entrance enjoining us to wear face masks to the table and wash our hands with hand gel. The only problem was a complete lack of hand gel dispenser.

We were then shown to our table, which was in a busy corner of an otherwise quiet dining room. Strange, I thought. Until I realised that the staff had clearly decided to maintain the old zonal system and direct guests to the same part of the room – which despite wider-than-normal table spacing, put two of our party back to back with two people just a few inches away on a neighbouring table.

The other thing that put our backs up was being told rather brusquely that we would have to give the table back in an hour and a half. This was doubtless in vague hopes of being able to turn the tables twice before having to eject people in time for the 10pm curfew, but given how quiet the place was it seemed unnecessary and, to be frank, downright rude. With consumers still needing a bit of gentle but friendly cajoling to get them to eat out, and restaurants in desperate need of every penny they can lay their hands on, annoying the customers who do venture out is the last thing this restaurant should have been doing.

Having said all of that, the food was good and the cocktails were excellent – all the better for being on a 2 for 1 before 7pm – and we returned home from our rare excursion in good spirits.

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It’s all happening in the brewing industry. Who would have thought at the start of this year that Fuller’s and Marston’s would both have ended the year minus their historic brewing operations. Hang on a minute, I hear you say, the boys from Wolverhampton are not selling up, merely putting their brewing business into a joint venture with Carlsberg.

Fair enough. But Carlsberg will have the controlling voice in the JV, with a 60 per cent stake, management control and – as Marston’s CEO Ralph Findlay conceded – “various exit clauses” to allow the Danes to buy out the other 40 per cent down the line. Operationally, Marston’s would be a pub operator.

So who’s next? Well, I’ll have a small bet with you that the next major name in British brewing to change hands will be Molson Coors, the maker of Carling, Doom Bar, Staropramen and Aspall cider. Not, I should clarify, by a sale of its UK business, but by a disposal of its European operations or, as seems increasingly possible, a takeover of the whole company, lock, stock and beer barrel.

Now I should make clear that none of this has been even remotely confirmed, but there were strong rumours at the end of last year that the North American brewer, itself originally created via a merger of Molson and Coors, had appointed Bank of America Merrill Lynch to sound out potential suitors of its European arm, including the UK, plus its other international operations, principally its three Indian breweries.

Nothing happened and then a nasty little virus reared its head. So why do I think the whole company is now a target? Because a couple of usually reliable sources have told me that, with the Molson Coors share price having almost halved since Covid-19 reared its head in February, at least two or three interested parties have started sniffing around.

One of my sources claims that Heineken is among those potential suitors, the suggestion being that swallowing Molson Coors would allow the Dutch brewer to narrow the gap on AB InBev in the key American market. Perhaps new CEO Dolf van den Brink might see it as a nifty opportunity to make his mark, but the Heineken family might not be so gung-ho. What’s more, it wouldn’t be an easy deal because Heineken would face huge competition issues in the UK and most other parts of Europe.

Other names mentioned include Asahi of Japan, the purchaser of the Fuller’s brewing business, while the big buyout firms would doubtless also have a look if Molson Coors was in play. It may all be hot air, but it feels to me like something may be happening. In these Covid times, nothing would surprise me.

 

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It seemed so easy: Boris’s rule of six would ensure everyone could understand how many people were allowed to gather together. Admittedly six seemed an arbitrary number, with stand-up comedian John Bishop joking that everyone knows it’s the seventh person “who’s the dodgy one”. But at least we all knew where we stood…until the introduction of a three-tier lockdown system in England. Oh, and a similar three-tier system in Scotland, albeit with its own tiering framework that might have “different levels” within the tiers. At least Wales is going to adopt the English three-tiered system…….unless the Welsh government decides to impose new Wales-only measures.