Images above: One Over the Ait, Brentford; The Pilot, Wellesley Rd, Chiswick
When will the pubs reopen is the $64,000 question many of us want to know the answer to, and how? How is it possible to enforce social distancing in a boozer? Who will want to eat a meal served by someone in a plastic visor and gloves, as if they’re delivering toxic waste, albeit with a smile? There hasn’t even been social distancing among the blokes sitting forlornly outside the shuttered riverside pubs, with their bottles and cans lined up on the muddy towpath, never mind inside.
Georgina Wald, Corporate Communications manager for Fuller’s, was in the process of trying to pick her way through this minefield when I spoke to her about how the planning is going. She is one of the very few people working at Fuller’s. All the pub staff have been furloughed. And I mean all of them. I spoke to one who had only been working at a Fuller’s pub for just three weeks when the pubs were shut, who is on the books, being paid along with senior staff who have worked for Fuller’s for years, and is duly grateful for the income.
Images above: George IV, Chiswick High Rd; The Bell & Crown, Strand on the Green
“I haven’t had to let a single one of my staff go” Ben Bullman, General Manger at George IV told me.
“Fuller’s have been fantastic”.
As an experienced pub manager who has only recently come to work for Fuller’s (eighteen months ago) he is in a position to compare and contrast hospitality companies, and he rates our locally based pub chain very highly.
“It’s good to know that they actually follow through on what they promise at interview” he said.
Images above: The Andover Arms in Hammersmith; The George & Devonshire, Chiswick
Tenanted pubs not charged rent
He was particularly impressed that Fuller’s have not been charging their tenant landlords rent. The company has a portfolio of pubs managed in house, which in Chiswick include the Bell & Crown, George IV and the Pilot, and they also have a number of tenanted pubs, such as the Andover Arms in Hammersmith, the Angel & Crown in Richmond and the George & Devonshire in Chsiwick. Where other businesses are negotiating with their landlords to reduce or defer rent payments, Fuller’s have just written them off.
“Tenanted pubs have not been charged rent since March” Georgina confirmed.
Fuller’s boss Simon Emeny posts videos every couple of days keeping staff informed about the company’s thinking. They make staff aware of mental health support from the Licensed Trade charity and the pubs make an effort to keep in touch with their staff.
“It’s important that people don’t feel isolated” says Georgina.
Fiona Sparkes at the Bell & Crown runs pub quizzes on Zoom to keep up her staff’s morale. The Red Lion in Ealing has turned itself into a community shop with an Italian bent, and the Angel & Crown in Richmond produces meals for homeless people.
Staff survey – ‘How do you feel about returning to work’?
Now the staff have all been sent a survey to fill out to ascertain how they feel about coming back to work.
‘Things are changing rapidly, and we don’t have all the answers’
Fuller’s admits, but they are looking to inform their decision making by asking staff (whose opinions they say will be represented anonymously) questions such as:
‘How are you coping with furlough’?
(I am coping very well and will continue to cope even if this goes on a while longer / I am starting to struggle and hope that this will be over soon / I am finding it very difficult and my mental or physical health is suffering)
and ‘How do you feel about returning to work’?
(Extremely uncomfortable, I really don’t want to / Uncertain, but likely to be OK with some reassurance and support / Comfortable / Can’t wait to get back)
Quite what they do if everyone ticks the first box for both those questions, I’m not sure, but at the moment they are looking at reopening the pubs in July / August with a strict system of seating groups at tables socially distanced from others.
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