Observations of trading with local restrictions up to a national lockdown
Liverpool has been at the forefront of the seemingly never-ending battle against covid-19 since March. Our move into the highest tier of social distancing measures in October was expected but greeted with trepidation, and often fear.
As a new business which has already closed as a result of the national lockdown in March, we weren’t sure how to plan for another set of restrictions that would acutely impact us in a number of ways.
The potential closure of our Tasting Room bar was on the cards. The Tasting Room provides us with a reliable and significant revenue stream, as well as enabling us to showcase our beer to customers. The idea of closing because of the focus of the new legislation on so-called wet-led pubs was pretty terrifying. We invested a lot of time and energy on making sure our Tasting Room was covid-safe, secure and comfortable for visitors. We changed our seating plan, invested in new furniture, trained staff and developed a table service system. This worked very well and most customers visited, enjoyed their visit and if able to, they would return.
We already had a number of trusted food traders on-board who would cook and serve their menus every Friday and Saturday. We decided, in light of the new legislation, to keep things going for a trial period to see if we could make a go of it. Two weeks in, and we saw a significant drop in trade, as we expected, but still our regulars and new customers gave us their patronage – and we are forever grateful.
This meant we could keep stock fresh, maintain our employment of our dedicated and hard-working frontline staff; and importantly, remain relevant and alive as a business. Because of the legislation’s emphasis on food-led trading, we had to open only when we had a food trader planned. This meant we only had 50% potential for income during the Tier 3 restriction period, compared to our previous opening hours prior to 20th March.
There is however another consideration that affects customer patronage – the need to buy food. Most customers used to come in for a few halves of different beers – we have 12 keg taps, two cask lines, local ciders and other drinks on offer. Some customers would no doubt budget for this, spend a tenner and go home with a warm glow. When the restrictions came in to play, the circumstances changed. Customers who want to visit for a drink also have to think about spending an extra £6 or £7 on something to eat so that they can have their half of IPA.
This undoubtedly contributed to our drop in income during the period prior to 5th November national lockdown restrictions. Our hunch that this would be the case came true.
Secondly, and this is having a major impact on our business, is the closure of our trade customers’ venues in the region. Those wet-led pubs, often in traditional settings where social distancing is either impossible or make it so difficult to trade, they are best off not opening since they can’t adapt to the new legislation. For us as a regional brewery setting out on a national journey, these customers are our lifeblood and keep the lights on. Upon entering the Tier system, our Merseyside trade dropped by 70%, and once other areas joined us, such as , Lancashire, Greater Manchester, with North Wales in the highest state of alert, we were left with around 15% of our income remaining – and this is variable depending on how well our existing customers are trading.
This leads me to the next point - consumer confidence was rock bottom, both with the extra expense of going out, the onset of autumn and winter and the closure of so many licensed establishments.
What did we do next?
We decided to remain open, limiting our opening to Fridays and Saturdays with our delightful food traders working to maintain service for our beloved Carnivaliers. Since November, national restrictions have meant that we had to close the Tasting Room altogether, but we continue to think optimistically about 2nd December and the potential of being able to reopen under the tiered restrictions system in place.
We will be making a decision as we enter winter whether to go ahead with our plans to add additional heating to our Tasting Room, as the building gets really chilly in winter. We want to maintain the pressure on government to keep a regular review of our city’s status through our local leaders and campaigners. Of course, mass testing in Liverpool is going to help us, we believe, to lower infections and protect our communities. We also think, along with other cities under the same measures, we should keep lobbying government to maintain financial support for businesses struggling through the various lockdowns. It seems quite telling that we only heard about more realistic financial help when London was entering Tier 2 restrictions, just prior to lockdown in November. We are suspicious that there is a very real north / south divide in the UK, and so we need to see more action in the coming months, especially with Christmas around the corner, to ensure businesses in our sector, including the supply chain we rely so much on, is also shielded from the financial implications of lockdowns and social distancing measures, like the tiering system.
Originally written in October but revisited after national lockdown restrictions were announced and in place for two weeks.