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‘We have to be ready’ – Pubs invest thousands in outdoor areas

Max McLean
·3-min read

Pubs have spent thousands of pounds updating outdoor areas, with one landlord saying: “If you open your doors with what you had before, you’re going to get left behind.”

Venues in England with outdoor seating will reopen on Monday for the first time since the beginning of January.

Half of Britons are planning to make a dash for the pub or a restaurant when the rules ease, a recent poll by investment bank Jefferies found.

Watch: English pubs prepare for reopening of outdoor hospitality

The Alma Inn near Halifax, West Yorkshire, has invested heavily in converting an overflow area by the car park to make what its Instagram account dubbed a “second pub”.

A before and after shot shows how The Alma Inn has modified its overflow space to accommodate more customers
(The Alma Inn/PA)

The new area includes a mobile bar, food truck and new benches, while the land also had to be levelled.

“Previously we just had a few benches on it,” John Priest, 38, one of the pub’s managers, told the PA news agency.

“You’re kind of on a slope, it is 50 yards away from the pub, so it was like an overflow.

“Rather than just using it as an overflow area, and having a handful of benches, we’re attempting to maximise the space that we’ve got.

“We have to be ready for the demand. If we get to a point next week or the week after where we didn’t have anywhere for people to sit, then we would have failed as a business in our eyes.

“If we can’t satisfy the demand that’s there, then we’ve got it wrong.”

The Alma Inn has modified it's overflow space to accommodate more customers
(The Alma Inn/PA)

Mr Priest said the next two weeks at the Alma Inn – which is run by general manager James Sullivan and owned by Lee Roberts – will be among the biggest of his career.

“I know that everything I have done before is going to pale in comparison to the kind of numbers we are going to do in the next couple of weeks,” he said. “That’s got to be an exciting thing.”

In Hayle, Cornwall, Damian Knight, 45 – who runs the Cornubia Inn with his wife Miranda – said the pandemic has changed the “traditional” pub model.

While they have spent money on a covered shelter, heating and updated furniture, the addition of wifi and a new ordering and payment system are important updates that customers may not notice at a glance.

“It’s one of those things we’re sort of used to doing now,” Mr Knight, who estimated they had spent around £5,000 preparing for the latest reopening, told PA.

The Cornubia Inn's outdoor seating area has been reinvented during various lockdowns
(Miranda Knight/The Cornubia Inn/PA)

“This is the third time we’re coming out of lockdown. Every time we’ve come out, inside (and) outside the rules have changed.

“If you open your doors with what you had before, you’re going to get left behind.

“I think people expect a little bit more as well – because they can only sit and eat outside, they expect it to be a little bit more comfortable.

“The traditional model is that you walked to the bar, you order your pint of beer, you hand over the cash, you walk down and you sit at your table. Covid’s changed that.

“People are expecting that table service and that little bit more, and I think it’s probably brought some pubs more into the modern era.”