Although research around Covid-19 is still relatively in its infancy stages, it’s widely accepted that the transmission of the virus in outdoor spaces is far less likely. With open-air ventilation and increased opportunities to socially distance, it’s unsurprising that we quickly saw a change in demand for outdoor environments to socialise with others.
Aided by a mild summer in 2020, many of us still managed to enjoy a visit to our local pub. We enjoyed catching up with friends we’d missed over lockdown and we were able to socialise in a controlled environment when we couldn’t host friends at home. The Government incentive of ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ meant our disposable income went further, whilst supporting our local businesses and the hospitality sector workers. With outdoor seating, sanitising stations, online ordering, table service and one way systems for using indoor facilities, we were able to enjoy a drink in the sun (on occasion) with relatively little concern about coming into close contact with those beyond our immediate group.
As the summer came to its inevitable end to be replaced with wet and windy days, the pub garden became far less attractive. Whilst it hasn’t been possible for all pubs to create or enhance their outdoor spaces, some of our Business Partners have embraced the demand to cater for the ‘new normal’. From increasing garden capacity to adding heating and overhead cover, several pubs have extended their outdoor appeal. In doing so, these Business Partners have reaped the benefits, with Guests continuing to visit pubs and utilise garden spaces far beyond the usual time of year. In addition to ensuring the safety of Guests and team members, Business Partners were able to safely play host to up to six people from mixed households (subject to regional tier restrictions). We were able to provide much needed harbour for those wanting to catch up over coffee and cake, or enjoy a drink and a meal. From weekly chin wags to annual celebrations, from friends to family, our pubs continued to play host to Guests, making people’s day in what was such a difficult year. It’s likely that Pubs won’t be able to open for some time, but we know that the measures our Business Partners took will continue to pay dividend well into the future.
We recently caught up with Dave Skinner, owner of The Lamb Inn in Wittering. As a Hall & Woodhouse Business Partner Dave received rent support while Government closures were enforced, but like many other Business Partners, was keen to ensure business could return to normal as soon as possible. Outdoor space quickly became a key driver for Guests, and our Partners acted upon this swiftly.
Can you tell us about the changes you made to your garden area?
“Through the first lockdown we spent a huge amount of time replanting trees and plants galore to get as much colour into the garden. We built an outdoor bar with a till, fridges and a service area – meaning customers didn’t need to go inside to order, it enabled the queue to move quickly and efficiently while social distancing was followed.”
Did you increase the capacity outdoors?
“We built a roof on top of our decked area to give eight covered tables. In the second lockdown we added another two marquees to provide another six covered tables. We also reimagined a play area to make extra dining for 45 covers, enlarging the garden to 150 covers.”
Did you add anything extra to your outdoor space?
“We rebuilt our outdoor pizza kitchen so that we could serve a wider menu including pizza, flatbreads, tapas and salads – this meant we could bubble our kitchen staff to allow teams to work safely and in isolated areas. We redesigned our outdoor prep kitchen to allow preparation to happen out of the main kitchen.”
How did you plan out the space?
“From working out the flow of people and past pinch points and bottlenecks in the pub we knew this would be essential. To keep people outside and away from the main bar has been key to our safety procedures. We built hand-washing and drying stations for Guests entering the pub, along with stations for staff with temperature checks.”
How did you create the new space?
“We did a lot of it ourselves – a lot of reading up on astro turf and heaters for example, but ultimately it was grabbing what was available at the time as everyone was in such sort supply.”
Have you seen a positive impact beyond the summer?
“Yes – normally December is our quietest month, that on top of restrictions and we are now seeing December as our third ever busiest month.”
Will you change the space throughout the seasons?
“It has been decorated in a Winter Wonderland/Alpine Bar theme, with skis, furs, an open-fire and Christmas trees everywhere! We also have Parrots living in the old play area tower as we want to keep some fun and playfulness in the garden.”
Did you encounter any problems?
“We added 12 electric heaters, we had to pull from a whole new power supply which was costly, but it has let us manage the supply properly without too many issues!”
What about the investment required, were you nervous to invest?
“It has been scary spending as much as I have this year, but it has paid off. I see this as a long term investment… Our turnover this summer was phenomenal, with average growth up around 40%. This was on top of already solid figures.”
How about feedback from your Guests, have you had a good response?
“Amazing – it’s been really heart-warming to hear all the great comments. From the ‘thanks’ to the ‘well-dones’… it’s been great. We have many people who only come to us as they can sit outside safely.”
Duncan Rouse, Head of Business Partnerships concluded “Our Business Partners are all entrepreneurs; they’ve been great at creating these spaces, each with their own unique identity and providing a strong draw over the other pubs in their area. Many Business Partners are now planning to host festivals throughout the year, along with seasonal events through from Halloween to Bonfire Night and Christmas, all utilising these new outdoor areas. These new spaces will continue to draw Guests in all-year, and the pubs have really raised their local awareness with residents and visitors.”
You can find out more about becoming a Hall & Woodhouse Business Partner and find your pub here hall-woodhousepartnerships.co.uk/partnerships.