The pubs – ‘It’s great that we have a date’
Local publicans have spoken of their relief that Westmeath’s “wet pubs” will finally get to reopen on September 21 – more than six months after they were forced to close.
Under the new guidelines for wet pubs, customers will have to ring ahead to book their tables; there will be no seating at the counter and if a 2m distance can be maintained between tables, there will be no time limit for patrons.
If there is a 1m distance between tables, customers will have the same 1 hour 45 minute time limit that applies to pubs that serve food, and restaurants.
Andrew Drake is the proprietor of The Drake Inn in Castletown Geoghegan. After missing more than half a year of trading, he says that “it’s great that we have a date and hopefully it will go ahead”.
“There is still a lot of things that can go wrong but we are grateful that we have a date and something to work towards.”
Mr Drake estimates that when he reopens, his capacity will be down between 40 and 50 percent.
“I’m in the middle of trying to figure out what is the best option for us [regarding layout].
“It’s a country pub and, like a lot of country pubs, we depended on our counter, so we will be down 15 or 20 people there.
“We will try to make it as safe as possible for people to enjoy the pub. It will be a learning curve for us all to see how it goes.
“At least we don’t have to worry about a food option. We can just be a pub. The figures will tell you quickly whether it is worthwhile reopening, but we are delighted.”
The three pubs in Castletown Geoghegan have been closed since March. Mr Drake says that their reopening will provide people with a valuable social outlet that they have been missing for half a year.
“It will be great for the older generation, for them to get out to chat to people, and have a couple of drinks.
“We are looking forward to meeting friends and customers again.”
The chairman of the Westmeath branch of the Vintners Federation of Ireland, Liam Gilleran, said that it was “tremendous news” for the sector and especially for rural communities, where he estimated as many as 70% of pubs have been closed since March.
Mr Gilleran said that 2020 has been a very difficult year for the hospitality sector and it is good news that all pubs will be reopened “this side of Christmas”.
While the state supports currently in place for pubs and other businesses affected by the Covid 19 pandemic are “greatly appreciated”, Mr Gilleran said that eligibility criteria the Employee Wage Subsidy Scheme, which gives employers a flat rate of €203 per week for each employee and was reduced from €350 at the start of September, needs to be looked at.
Businesses turnover has to be down by at least 30% to qualify. He believes that there should be a sliding scale and that if a publican’s turnover is down by less than 30% they should still qualify for support given the impact that the pandemic has had on the pub sector and wider economy.
Rather than having a number of “convoluted” support schemes easiest and most efficient way for the state to provide financial support for the hospitality sector would be to significantly cut VAT, like many of the European counterparts have done.
With the number of coronavirus cases rising across the country, some senior health officials has questioned the timing of the reopening wet pubs.
Mr Gilleran says that thousands of pubs have been reopened since the end of June and there have been no Covid-19 clusters linked to the sector. The vast majority of publican’s have strictly adhered to the hygiene and public health guidelines, while the public has also played their role.
He says that there is “no reason” to think that this won’t continue when wet pubs reopen next Monday.