Back to the pub: is it the same?

Emma Seton·15 July 2020·6 min read
Back to the pub: is it the same?

For many students, the return to the pub has been long awaited. Three months after the initial lockdown began, Boris Johnson gave the go ahead for pubs and restaurants to re-open their doors to the public on 4 th July. This announcement marks the third step in the Prime Minister’s plan and is the greatest easing of lockdown so far. Although many students were thrilled to finally return to their much-loved venues, while the virus remains in circulation, the hospitality industry cannot operate in the same way it did before the outbreak – public health measures are necessary. In the post-lockdown phase, a ‘new normal’ is arising, but what will this look like for the hospitality sector? Is the experience of going to the pub the same as before? The short answer is no.

Social distancing:

The phenomenon of social distancing is becoming integrated into society, however with the re-opening of the hospitality sector the guidelines refer to ‘one-meter plus’, the ‘plus’ indicates that individuals should take extra precautionary measures where adequate distancing cannot be maintained. Individuals should social distance from hospitality staff, and people from outside of their household. Under current government guidelines, individuals can mix with one other household inside venues, and that the mixing of more than one household should take place outside.

One-way walk routes, indicated by floor markings, are mandatory within establishments to minimise contact in close spaces such as doorways. There must be space between seating to ensure that groups are socially distanced from one another in accordance with government guidelines.

Track and Trace:

Pubs have been advised to assist the NHS with their efforts to Track and Trace the virus, meaning that establishments should take a record of all those who have visited them. These customer records should be held for 21 days, and if necessary, establishments may need to shut if there is an outbreak.


There is not a blanket time restriction upon how much time drinkers can spend in an establishment, but establishments have been recommended to allow customers to stay for up to two hours. However, the exact implication of the time limits may vary between venues. Many places have opted for a booking only system, to control the numbers coming through their doors, although some smaller venues are still taking walk-ins. Large groups will no longer be able to all sit together, but will need to split into smaller cohorts that can be seated. The days of drinkers piling into crowded pubs and staying all evening, under the current conditions, is a thing of the past.

PPE for staff:

All staff must wear personal protective equipment for the duration of their shift, this includes gloves, face masks and often a protective visor, to ensure the safety of themselves and all customers. At points of contact, perspex screens have been put in place to provide a physical barrier between the customers and staff. Where possible, doors and windows should be left open to ensure ventilation within establishments, as well as music, and other entertainment being discouraged to prevent individuals from shouting, which increases the spread of the virus. Hand sanitiser will be made available for customers, upon arrival and throughout their stay, and they will be encouraged to frequently use this.

Different ordering system:

Many places are not taking orders at the bar, but instead are using an app, to minimise staff and customer contact. Many eating establishments are offering a reduced menu, as well as single use menu cards, single sachets for condiments and disposable cutlery. Those places not using an app ordering system, may provide one bill for the whole party, to avoid multiple transactions and increased contact. At least for now, drinkers can no longer gather behind a crowded bar and eagerly wait to be served their drink. While many may feel nostalgic about this experience, the new system is more time efficient and reduces the competitive nature of waiting to be served.

The student experience:

“As students, the pub is our second home. My flat mates and I were delighted to return, despite the extra measures. The booking system was a little different, but it meant we were guaranteed a table – something that doesn’t usually happen when you go to a busy student pub."

Student at the University of Manchester

“I was slightly cautious about returning to the pub, but the staff were well protected and took all our details when we arrived. Of course, I know there is still a risk, but most places follow the guidelines properly and who could say no to a pint after waiting three months for it?"

Student at the University of Newcastle

The British Beer and Pub Association has welcomed the re-opening of pubs but calls on customers to act safely within establishments. Those who use the pubs to go for a quiet drink may find that their experience is not very different, however those who preferred the crowded busy atmosphere may find their experience somewhat regulated. As society attempts to return to normal, the necessary health measures cannot be overlooked. Scientists cannot predict exactly how long these measures will need to be in place for, but for the foreseeable future they are necessary to control the virus and maintain public health. With pubs being open since 4th July, Brits can finally consume pints once again – even if under different circumstances. Although student life is not completely the same, for many, the return to the pub is a welcomed taste of normality.