The Maypole Inn, which Ian Smith has run for the last three years alongside his wife Sam, does not serve food.
But under the tier 2 ‘high alert’ restrictions, which came into force in West Sussex yesterday, pubs can only serve alcohol on the premises with a ‘substantial meal’
“It just doesn’t work. For a wet-led pub, being forced to do food, it’s absolutely crazy,” Ian said.
The pub has had offers of support, including from a local burger van which volunteered to park outside, and from customers, who offered to bring along their own scotch egg after the environment secretary, George Eustice, suggested this qualified as a meal.
But for a village pub like The Maypole Inn, Ian said the rules around households mixing presenting the biggest challenge.
“I could do food quite easily,” he said. “It’s the separating people – that’s the major hurdle.”
As the only pub in Yapton, The Maypole Inn is meeting place for the community, with a clientele almost exclusively made up of local people.
One of the busiest times for the business is 4pm, when the builders come in. But despite having worked together all day, they would be forced to sit at different tables.
“These are people that live in the same village and work together,” he said. “But because they’re from different households, they have to separate. I don’t get it. It’s just ridiculous.”
Unlike a big, anonymous pub in a city, Ian knows most of the locals by name and would immediately recognise if people from different households were sitting together.
“It puts a lot of onus on the landlord to control it,” he said.
Ian said it was a blow to find out the area would be put under tier 2 restrictions, especially considering it had been in a lower tier before lockdown was introduced.
“We kept an eye on the numbers, none of them went up,” he said. “If anything they were going down.”
The pub already has everything in place to keep customers safe.
Earlier this year, Ian and Sam redecorated, going ‘overboard’ with the Covid safety regulations to get everything sanitised and clean, while ‘just about retaining the old-school feel of the place’.
Ian said he would like to see individual checks made on pubs, on a weekly basis for example, so that if they were found to be following certain rules they could reopen with more freedom.
But unless things change, he cannot see the pub reopening anytime soon.
“Until there’s a complete relaxation in the mixing of households, I don’t think we can open, because of how we’re set up,” he said.
Even if West Sussex moves into a different tier on December 16 following a review, it would only leave a few days before Christmas, and Ian fears there could potentially be a new lockdown in January following the five-day relaxation over the festive period.
The Prime Minister has announced a one-off £1,000 ‘Christmas grant’ to support pubs in Tier 2 and 3 that predominantly serve alcohol rather than food, like The Maypole Inn.
But Ian said this amounted to just two days worth of takings pre-Covid – pointing out that he has already had to throw away hundreds of pounds worth of unused stock in the last few weeks.
It is not just the pub that is suffering financially, he added, but the many other businesses that rely on it being open for their own trade – from local breweries to taxi drivers and take-aways.
“It’s a huge knock on effect,” he said.
The British Beer and Pub Association estimates that two-thirds of pubs in West Sussex – 332 venues – will be forced to close in December – because they serve no food or make a low percentage of their overall turnover from selling meals.
Even those which are able to open will see a 58 per cent drop in their December turnover compared to the same month last year, the trade body has estimated.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, warned there would be ‘carnage’ unless the Government acted immediately – read more here.
“We need the Government to recognise the impact of these restrictions and urgently provide more financial support,” she said.
“We cannot overstate how serious the situation is currently facing our staff, communities and businesses.
“The future of hundreds of breweries, thousands of pubs and tens of thousands of jobs hangs in the balance.”
A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman said: “We understand the pressure businesses are currently under, particularly the hospitality industry.
“These restrictions, which are reviewed every 14 days, are essential so we can control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.”
He added that the £1,000 grant for pubs accompanied a ‘wide-ranging package of financial support’, including the extended furlough scheme, other business grants, loan schemes and business rates holidays.