Images above: Bell Bullman, General Manager; George IV
The instruction that all pubs and restaurants should close was expected by the hospitality industry, at least in London, but the speed at which events are unfolding still comes as quite a shock. Cafes, pubs and restaurants must close from tonight (Friday 20 March), except for take-away food, to tackle the Coronavirus, Boris Johnson has said. All the UK’s nightclubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres have also been told to close “as soon as they reasonably can”.
In Chiswick, Fuller’s had already decided to close its six pubs by Monday; the Swan pub, Michael Nadra and La Trompette restaurants had also decided to close before the Prime Minister’s announcement. Staff have been bracing themselves for news that they would be out of a job, but the Government package of financial assistance for workers has come as a huge relief.
Ben Bullman, General manager of the George IV pub on Chsiwick High Rd told me that the package the Chancellor had announced was “pretty incredible” and “far more than anyone was expecting”. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced that the government will pay 80% wages for employees who are not working, up to £2,500 per month.
The Prime Minister urged people not to go out tonight, saying: “For now, at least physically, we need to keep people apart.”
Ben told me his priority and that of the other General Managers in Fuller’s group of 204 pubs in the Midlands and South of England, was to look after their teams. Ben has 30 people working at George IV. “Our priority is to make sure they’re alright and for the pub to come out of this on the other side”.
“Running a pub is about more than running a business, from a social perspective it’s about delivering a service to my regulars. A pub is the backbone of a community and I love that side of it. I absolutely love my job. Hopefully the British public will want to welcome us back with a bumper weekend once we’re able to be open again”.