‘Demand for the pub will still be there if people feel safe’
Tomorrow, Wednesday, July 1, will be a red-letter day for Des Connole and his staff at The Thatch in Crinkill, Birr (pictured).
After being closed for an unprecedented 16 weeks, the long-established South Offaly bar and restaurant will reopen its doors and the owner is hopeful locals will continue to support his and other small businesses throughout the county during these challenging times.
"We need to have an environment where people will feel safe to come in, and we need people to shop local and support all of the home industries. We are definitely hoping for that," Des told the Offaly Independent.
"Our costs have gone up drastically, with all of the personal protective equipment (PPE) and everything else, but we hope people will come out and support the local trade."
Des held an induction night for his staff this week in order to outline all of the new safety procedures and protocols that will be in place when The Thatch reopens.
He was hopeful that the business would be able to re-hire most of its staff.
“We will have to crawl before we run, but hopefully we will be able to take our local staff back. That's our main aim."
The Thatch is open this week on Wednesday - Saturday 4-9pm and Sunday 12-9pm
Guidelines for the reopening of pubs were issued which included that customers would have to purchase a meal costing at least €9, and would not be allowed to stay for longer than 105 minutes in any one premises.
Only restaurants and pubs that serve food will be reopening from next week, so two other Offaly pubs we were in touch with this week - Hugh Lynch's in Tullamore and The Chestnut in Birr - will be waiting until the next phase, on July 20, to reopen.
Emmet Lynch of Hugh Lynch's spoke about the balancing act that will be needed to maintain an enjoyable pub atmosphere while at the same time ensuring that all of the proper Covid-19 safety procedures were being followed.
"We would like customers to expect that the hospitality Hugh Lynch's has always offered is something we will continue to offer," he said.
"We don't want it to be a hospital environment, we want it to be about hospitality. At the same time, we will be taking every precaution possible, from a hygiene point of view, to make it a safe environment for customers to come back."
He said table service, maintaining social distancing, and slightly reduced opening hours were among the measures likely to be introduced when the pub reopens.
"We will definitely be offering table service and we'll have a new training programme in place for the staff, in terms of hygiene and sanitising, so that they know what's expected."
In general, he said he was "relatively optimistic" that pubs such as his would still be viable businesses when they reopen.
"The same business rules that have always applied still apply. If we can create a positive experience for people, and if they feel safe, I think there will be a demand for it," said Emmet.
Clodagh Fay of The Chestnut in Birr is also making preparations to reopen after July 20, but she acknowledged there were several obstacles that would have to be overcome.
She said some of her staff had moved on during the pandemic, and there was a waiting list with various companies for perspex and other items needed to help create a safe pub environment.
"I do hope to open, but there's no doubt that it's going to be extremely difficult," she said. "Some (of the guidelines for reopening) are very thorough, but there are other aspects that are very vague, such as bar stools, live music and DJs. I suppose it's an ever-changing predicament, but that makes it very hard to plan."
She also said the guidelines around booking tables and only remaining in the one premises for up to 105 minutes could potentially pose a problem for regional pubs.
"In the city pubs, in Galway, Limerick, or Dublin, people are used to turning tables and, at Christmas time, having to book tables in restaurants, but it's different in smaller towns and in the country," she said.
"When I'm in contact with my current staff, we are just taking it day by day. It would be great to get open, great to see customers, and great to have an atmosphere. But the worry is, what atmosphere, and how confident will people be in coming out?" she said.