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How will we cope without pubs and restaurants?

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Martin Dinkele SVP 25/03/2020

Coronavirus weekly tracker: March 25th 2020

It’s going to be a tough few months but people are already looking forward to a quiet reflective pint

Alarmingly 12% said they didn’t know there was any advice to avoid pubs or restaurants.

It seems fairly clear that this era will be defined in terms of Covid-19. The old order and the new world. Exactly what this new normal looks like is unknown. We’re still in survival and lockdown mode: increased working at home, shorter supply chains, more investment in contingency planning perhaps. But can we do without pubs and restaurants?

Before the lockdown

On Monday March 16th Boris Johnson advised people to “avoid” going to pubs, bars and restaurants. By Friday March 20th the government told bars and restaurants to close and not re-open the following day.

Savanta asked 2,000 UK adults if they had visited a pub or bar or restaurant that week and nearly one in five (18%) said they had, rising to 1 in 4 in London and among middle-aged drinkers.

The reasons given highlighted the importance of the pubs, bars and restaurants. Two in five (40%) said they wanted to “support” the besieged sector. A similar proportion (36%) said they had already made the arrangement before the government advice, while the same proportion said they thought going out was okay as long as they didn’t sit too near other people.

All of these reasons have a rational or emotional logic: a casual pint in the pub is a hard habit to break. However, alarmingly 12% said they didn’t know there was any advice to avoid pubs or restaurants. Perhaps the latter sub group will be knocking on closed doors right now wondering what’s going on.

Drinking at home

Of course, there is now the “Virtual Pub”. You can visit the “Staying Inn” website, where you’re in a real pub with real customers and staff. Online socialisers calling themselves “Zoomers” are having “Whatsapperitifs”.

BrewDog is also launching online bars on Friday evening (March 27th). The Scottish pub company will host interactive events including beer tastings, virtual pub quizzes, live music and comedy, Q&A sessions and brewing masterclasses. Time will tell if this grows and matures but pub and restaurant goers want “atmosphere” and after a long day at work staring at screens and devices will people really want this when normal life resumes? It remains to be seen.

Socialising after the pandemic

Once pubs and restaurants open their doors again how will people react?

Inevitably there will be a new normal— but what will happen on Day 1 of the post Covid-19 world? Wild celebrations, Trafalgar Square filled with people and parties, or a time of quiet reflection?

We asked the same 2,000 UK adults what they’ll do when they get the all clear to go to pubs, bars and restaurants again. The results suggest quiet reflection is on people’s minds: 40% said they would probably “go for a quiet meal and feel grateful it’s all over”; this is most keenly felt by women (48%) and the over 45’s (47%).

A further 28% said they would “go to their local pub for a quiet drink”. This is good news for community and village pubs: people who have shared the pain want to look inward and reconnect with people they know. Fewer people say they’ll be in celebratory mode – 13% said they’d go out on “a big night out in town” and the same proportion said they’ll “try to book a table in a smart restaurant and celebrate”.

This highlights that the mood on day 1 after restrictions are lifted will be more relief and a desire to return to normality rather than euphoria and excess. This is reflected in drinks choices – survey respondents say their first drink in a pub, bar or restaurant is far more likely to be wine or beer or spirits than champagne (6%).

Home drinking meets a need and – by necessity right now – it’s on the rise. Plus, it’s cheaper than going out. However, the pain of giving up visits to pubs or restaurants is evident in a week when government advice was to avoid them.

Keeping calm and going out to the local pub for a drink or a quiet meal once it’s all over, highlights the deep role bars and restaurants have played for hundreds of years in meeting the fundamental need for socialising rather than social isolation. And I’m confident this won’t change in the post Covid- 19 new normal.

Savanta is running a weekly coronavirus survey and tracker which offers brands and businesses the opportunity to access and understand customer attitudes and behaviours towards coronavirus. Get in touch to find out more.

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