More than half of pubs would not reopen and the rest would be at the mercy of the weather, under tentative plans to allow beer garden service from April, the industry trade body has said.
The British Beer and Pubs Association (BBPA) said 29,000 pubs, about 60%, do not have a big enough garden or outdoor area to welcome drinkers without also needing to open indoor areas.
The prediction comes amid speculation that the government will permit pubs to welcome guests outside from April, easing some of the pressure on a sector that has been among the hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The BBPA is pushing for permission to serve customers indoors as soon as non-essential shops are allowed to reopen. It said about 75% of pubs have some outdoor space but only 40% could open it if restrictions on indoor movement persist. Most of those that could open would not break even due to the logistical challenges and unpredictable April weather, it said.
“Even if some pubs did try to open outdoors only in April, all it would take is some heavy rain and they would find it has all been for nothing,” said the BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin.
“For many pubs, gardens are at the back and the only way to access them is through the inside. And of course, toilet facilities would still need to be provided.
“We question the government’s thinking behind this and suggest they consult with us as a sector on it.”
The trade body estimates that lasting restrictions on indoor service would mean just 17% of UK pub capacity would be available, resulting in £1.5bn of lost turnover compared with normal times.
Pubs that could only open partially would require continued government grants, the BBPA said.
“We urge the government to open our pubs inside – and outside – when non-essential retail also opens. By then, the vaccine will have been rolled out to millions more, and pubs can open while continuing to follow exemplary hygiene measures, world-leading standards in guidance and social distancing.
“Until then, the government must do all it can to support our sector until it opens to trade properly in the upcoming budget.”
The Guardian has approached the government for comment.