With picturesque riverside pubs clustered around the Thames, as well as by East Devon’s Exe Estuary, more than half of the Young’s estate has a large beer garden.
This would appear to put the group in good stead when it comes to managing capacity during social distancing, especially given the unusually consistent sunshine of recent months.
But CEO Patrick Dardis is reluctant to base his reopening strategy on something so unpredictable as the British weather.
“This thing about getting the gardens open if we can’t get the pubs open is a nonsense to me,” he tells MCA. “It only works if you’ve got the weather.”
A second, equally important point is toilet facilities, and the horrifying prospect of pub customers relieving themselves in neighbours gardens.
“There has certainly been examples of that, where police have been called where pubs have been serving food with no loos, and neighbours have been quite cheesed off.”
Dardis is discussing Youngs’ reopening plans, and why the company has chosen to wait until 3 August to relaunch its nearly 300 pubs, rather than follow the government’s date of 4 July, or stagger it into the grey area of takeaway beer, sans facilities.
For Dardis, it gives the group more time to prepare for what are still fairly sketchy details, particularly on one metre versus two metres.
He is of the belief that the government will fall in line with other European countries and the WHO and agree that one metre is safe and reasonable, giving pubs a much greater shot of running a viable business.
“Whether the pubs are going to open in July or not is way too uncertain for us, so we’ve made our own mind up with August, which gives us ample time to ensure our staff and customers feel more safe and more confident to return,” he says.
“We hope by then, that the government will follow the French, the Italian, the Danes, and the WHO guidelines on one metre social distance for pubs.”
The company will implement the now familiar operating precautions, such as enhanced hygiene and cleaning, disposable menus, a reduced food offer, and clearly defined social distancing.
However he is determined that the environment does not become too clinical.
“We’ve got to make sure that pubs are pubs, and they don’t resemble an operating theatre,” he says. “I certainly wouldn’t be interested in going to a pub that looks like that.”
Despite the huge disruption the lockdown has caused, Dardis is remarkably upbeat and optimistic about prospects for recovery, perhaps because the conversation has moved on to reopening.
He is hopeful restrictions will be removed completely by October, though concedes the impact on trading will probably last a full year.
Like some of his peers in hospitality, he now sees the idea of saving lives and saving the economy interdependent and no longer mutually exclusive.
“They’re actually now equally important, because saving the economy is also about saving lives,” he says.
“The devastating impact of keeping the country in lockdown, of businesses never being able to open, the pain that that will cause over the next decade, I think the government have to just share that, be honest and treat the public like grownups.”
While the plan is to open the entire estate on 3 August, the full picture could be a little more nuanced, with individual influences coming into play, such as the pub size and location.
“Obviously, the bigger the outside space if the weather is fine, the bigger your internal trading space, the more loos you’ve got, will go a long way to determine reopening.
“What we won’t have is a generic plan for all of our estate. We will have a plan specific to each individual pub. There isn’t one medicine that cures all.”
The Young’s estate has some central London sites, though is skewed towards a South West London and Surrey heartland, leaving it less exposed to the expected increase in people working from home post-virus.
Still, Dardis is dubious about the wisdom of these short-term trends becoming permanent.
“I really think London will still be a magic city, buzzing with workers and tourists,” he says.
“Certainly the evidence we’re getting is the appetite is very clearly to get back out to pubs.
“I’m not one of the doomsters, I think as soon as we can get back out safely we should.”
Returning to his optimistic note, Dardis emphasises the company is confident pubs will “pretty much back to normal” by next year, as customers will miss the social side of the trade.
And as ”desperate and awful as covid-19 been, with all the lives lost, it will have a one year impact in my view. And the sector will recover strongly.”
THE BIG INTERVIEW
Young’s CEO Patrick Dardis: Pubs can’t resemble operating theatres
With picturesque riversides pubs from the Thames to East Devon’s Exe Estuary, more than half of the Young’s estate have a large scenic beer garden. This would seem to put the group in good stead when it comes to managing capacity during social distancing, especially given the unusually consistent sunshine of recent months. But CEO Patrick Dardis is reluctant to base his reopening strategy on something so unpredictable as the British weather. Dardis is discussing Youngs’ reopening plans, and why the company has chosen to wait until 3 August to relaunch it’s nearly 300 pubs, rather than follow the government’s date of 4 July, or stagger it into the grey area of takeaway beer, sans facilities.