Dublin bar owner: ‘Social distancing just won’t work in a pub’

Covid Stories: ‘People go to pubs and restaurants for the atmosphere, the craic, to be close to friends’

John McClafferty is owner of Camden Bite & Brews on Camden Street in Dublin.

John McClafferty is owner of Camden Bite & Brews on Camden Street in Dublin.

 

After working in finance for most of my 20s and 30s, I went out on my own three years ago and opened a bar on Camden Street. After an okayish first year, the business – Camden Bite & Brews – was building nicely.

The weather last summer was glorious; the sunshine was a real bonus for us, with an outdoor area out front, we were jammed most days. I built a good team, and our staff retention was good. Any money we made was reinvested back in to the business, with money spent on a new outdoor smoking area to the rear, a new bar and repairs to the premises.

The timing of this virus has been particularly difficult for my business, and bars in general. The Six Nations was killed off half way through, and St Patrick’s Day celebrations were also cancelled, two of our biggest revenue-generating events of the year. Both of these events could make or break your year as a bar owner, let alone your Q1. People think that bars are creaming it all day every day, but in reality it’s the weekends that make you money, and the one-off events such as these, the big concerts and festivals, and bank holidays.

I know there are plenty worse off than me – I look at some of my neighbours on Camden Street and really feel for them as they invested huge sums, millions of euro in some cases, in brand-new fit-outs and premises. How will they get any return? Will they ever reopen?

The real worry now is the unknown. When and how will bars reopen? Do I just sit tight and wait? As a small and relatively new bar, I can’t hang on forever, and even if I could, would I want to? There might be no pub business to go back to.

There are so many rumours floating around, that pubs will reopen at 50 per cent capacity, or that two-metre social distancing will have to be adhered to. But these restrictions just won’t work in a pub. People go to pubs and restaurants for the atmosphere, the craic, to be close to friends; they go to socialise, not to socially distance.

Most of my overheads have been put on hold, thankfully. We are up to date with most suppliers, and rent is on a freeze for the time being. There is generally positive understanding from everyone that this situation needs everyone to work together. Other issues such as rates have been addressed, with thanks to the Licenced Vintners Association and their engagement with Dublin City Council. Insurance is a key issue that remains unresolved.

I only employ 14 people and my staff are all on the Covid payment, which, in fairness, was brilliant of the Government to do. This can’t be maintained forever though, and I wonder what will happen after May 5th.

I am a little older now, and can go back to what I used to do before the bars, but there are so many people in the hospitality sector that have worked in the sector all their lives and know nothing else but the trade they are in. What will they do?

We have some very tough days ahead.

To reflect the many ways life has changed in Ireland by the coronavirus outbreak, The Irish Times is inviting readers to share their Covid Stories. You can submit yours here

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