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  • Writer's pictureRobbie Stewart

I never had a great night out in a supermarket booze aisle

As someone who has worked in the hospitality industry all of my working life, as a manager and then multiple business owner, I now look on in horror at what my 'comrades' are currently going through.

I took on a pub/rest with rooms in a beautiful coastal village with huge potential right before the 2017/18 crash and spent a couple of years slowly recovering. I thought that was bad but now thank my lucky stars.

The trouble when the economy is in crisis is that almost all industries are affected. For those in building, they are the worst affected. For those in transport, they are the worst affected and so it goes on. Quite reasonably we see the industry in which we make our living as being the most important and in most demanding need of government support.

I exist within a bit of a hospitality bubble. I work for a company that provides business services to the hospitality sector, accounts. payroll. stocktaking. business plans etc so our fortunes are tied to those of our clients, most of whom are running pub businesses.

So as I set out my case for the genuine unique hardships and social effect of pubs not being given enough support or attention, please bear in mind that I'm not writing this with my Roslyns Group hat on, but with my ex-publican’s hat on. But both hats have informed my opinion.

Why pubs are unique is quite a simple concept to grasp but why they require more support than other small businesses in these utterly unprecedented times is another matter.

- My first point is that publicans to a large extent live and work on the premises. I know what it is like to have the success of your business

linked not only to profits but to my job, my partner's job, and our home. I have friends who had recently moved into a new pub, children settled at a new school, flat above the pub decorated, strong business plan, hours of hard work building a reputation, and now...

What other industry has a business and a family home so intrinsically linked?

- My second point on the case for special status is culture. The effect on a country of bookshops closing is bad ... but we still have bookshops and we still have books. When the economy hits travel agents, yes, jobs are lost and businesses sold with massive loss of share value .. but when the economy slowly but surely recovers as it always does, these companies rise from the ashes. Leaner, fitter, and ready to take holiday bookings. The ability to book a package holiday on the Costa del sol does not end forever.

But pubs, once that pub closes there is no guarantee it will reopen. There is often a queue of people/companies seeking planning permission to turn that building into a house or flats.

If the number of pubs in the UK takes the hit we expect from the current site, there is real doubt that things will ever recover.

Time has been called on the British pub several times, most recently the smoking ban was the death nail. Not so. Brexit was touted as an issue and on this, we are yet to see the full effect. But this situation now, government-enforced closure, government-enforced trading restrictions, and the very nature of the industry relying on sociability and getting 'people in' could well be the actual closing time bell we have worried about.

Times change and industries adapt, but this is a war that pubs are not armed for.

For those who don't have any use for pubs, their closure will not hurt.

For those of us who not only grew up working in pubs but personally have had some of our favourite memories with friends and family in pubs, a fatal blow will not only harm jobs, but something special in our lives will be gone. Possibly forever.

I don't just mean the loss of a dewey eyed country inn with a roaring fire. I mean the community local with the OAP discount and darts team, the gastropub with chef training schemes, the music pub offering musicians a lifeline, the pub is and always has been an intrinsic part of British culture.

Its loss is all of our loss.

My point? We need more. The only industry having its trading hours restricted is the only industry that is also a part of the fabric of our society.

It will cost money but I'd say that it will be worth it.

The alternative?

Alcohol becoming less a social add-on and more a means to an end. Supermarkets do not care about alcohol consumption. There is no one from a supermarket or off-license in anyone's living room to say "you've had enough to drink, your behaviour is unacceptable and you can have no more alcohol'.

During lockdown the supermarkets have reported massive profits, even more than the massive profits they already posted. As government lockdowns seem to be returning for the hospitality sector, the vast majority of drinks will be once more bought from supermarkets.

When we are looking for somewhere to find the money needed to support British hospitality, perhaps we should be looking at the tax benefits that supermarkets enjoy?

I’m not anti-supermarket, but I for one have never had any memorable nights with friends and family in a supermarket booze aisle.

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