Happy, safe and soulless – how pubs found their first weekend open since the lockdown

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Queue outside Ye Olde George Inn, Christchurch

THERE was a mixed response to pubs reopening at the weekend with some local landlords hailing the new rules as helping to deliver better service without the crowds, and others lamenting the loss of a traditional atmosphere.

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Jamie Keki is manager of Ye Olde George Inn, in Christchurch, where a queue formed before it opened on Saturday. He told the A&T: “I think drinkers are actually getting a better service at the moment. They aren’t packed in like sardines in a bar trying to get the barman’s attention.

“They seemed to really enjoy having table service and they all said they felt very safe.”

Jamie there had been “great atmosphere around Christchurch” on Saturday with “people just really loving being able to have a drink and something to eat in a pub at last.”

He added: “It’s a simple thing but people have really missed not being able to do it during lockdown.”

Mr Keki’s sentiments were echoed by Simon Thoyts, landlord of the Chequers Inn, Lymington, and chairman of the town’s Pubwatch.

He said: “Saturday went very well, everyone said they enjoyed being served drinks at the table rather than queuing at the bar.

“But I don’t think my normal Friday night crowd will like it very much. They usually all stand at the bar chatting and I wonder whether Friday is ever going to be normal again.”

Mr Thoyts said he felt his pub had been a “bit soulless inside” as a result of the measures he had to take for safety.

He said: “We had to take all the mats, condiments, flowers etc off the tables, so it looks as if someone has moved out as it is so bare.

“Outside in the garden there was a good atmosphere. Everyone behaved themselves and we were just really glad to be back in the pub.”

In common with most pubs Mr Thoyts said he had provided PPE to staff but said the majority had chosen not to wear it saying: “They all felt safe and comfortable.”

At the Plough Inn, New Milton, general manager Liz Blake said some staff had “felt very nervous” about the re-opening.

She said: “I think it was the dread of not knowing how things were going to work out. One lady was particularly worried and wore a mask as did a few others, along with gloves.

“But at the end of service they all said they had felt safe and were quite happy.”

A one-way system was introduced with people ordering drinks and food at separate tills. Drinking at the bar was not allowed.

At the Lazy Lion in Milford, landlord Iain Robertson said trade had been “steady all day with 20 for breakfast, 20 for lunch and 25 for dinner”.

He said: “It was just so lovely to have the pub open again. We have the tables socially distanced and people cannot drink at the bar.

“Apart from that it was relatively normal. Staff did not wear PPE but did keep a certain distance from customers while serving them.

“I think we will get busier and busier as people realise that going to a pub is safe and enjoyable.”

Dorset Police reported that the weekend had been “largely peaceful” and praised people for behaving themselves.

The county’s police and crime commissioner, Martyn Underhill, said: “In the build-up to this weekend we asked members of the public to enjoy our reopened pubs, bars and hospitality sector, but to do so safely and responsibly.

“I’m very pleased to say that the vast majority of people seem to have taken this message on board over this weekend.”

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