But what counts for “normal” may well have been irrevocably altered.
Many publicans and patrons will be glad to see the back of pandemic-related restrictions that have crimped both trade and the social experience. But some trends are likely to become permanent fixtures, changing the face of the time-honoured British pub for good.
It’s not as tragic as it sounds. L'anno scorso, the government made it easier for pubs and restaurants to obtain “pavement licences” to serve guests in the street, compensating for restrictions affecting indoor capacity.
Business minister Paul Scully recently announced that pavement licences can now be extended or even made permanent. That means valuable extra floorspace for venues, although the continental-style al fresco dining culture may not be so popular come the colder, rainier months.
Pubs were also granted temporary off licences last year, allowing them to sell drinks to take home. That has been extended for a further 12 mesi, signalling the possibility that takeaway pints could become a permanent fixture.
With table service becoming the norm during the pandemic, many patrons have developed a taste for having their refreshments brought to them, rather than jostling for the attention of bar staff. Larger venues and those that serve food are likely to stick with it as a default, even if bar service is an option too. Oakman Inns, which has 35 pubs in the south-east and Midlands, has said its service will continue to be table-only for the time being.
That’s all very well for Oakman, whose venues are largely in rural spots with large beer gardens, but smaller urban sites will be glad to see the back of table service.
Chris Jowsey is chief executive of Admiral Taverns, one of the UK’s largest pub chains, with about 1,000 venues. “Some will keep it, but the vast majority want to go back to service at the bar because those costs are killing them and they’re utterly knackered from doing it," Egli ha detto.
Ordering by app
Table service might not be universally popular but ordering by app is likely to stick around, particularly in venues that serve food.
Richard Carter, co-founder of one such app, OrderPay, points out that there are lots of reasons why pubs and customers may favour phone-based ordering.
“If you’re worried about missing a moment in the football, or buying rounds, or getting served at the bar, we can solve those problems," Egli ha detto. For pubs and their staff, orders by phone are typically 10% bigger, Egli ha detto, and pubs can upsell extras such as pork scratchings. The ease of ordering also means more transactions overall.
No more tip jars
Another benefit of ordering by app is cashless tipping. The pandemic has accelerated the move to a cash-free society, raising concerns about hospitality staff who rely on that little extra.
Several polls have shown guests are keen to tip big, knowing how hospitality has suffered, but may not know how. tuttavia, most ordering apps now make tipping possible, while services such as TipJar, Tip Pot and Easy Tip offer the option, sometimes via QR code.
Fewer pubs, more Wetherspoons
At the start of the pandemic, c'erano 40,886 pubs in Inghilterra and Wales, according to real estate consultancy Altus Group. Alcuni 473 have gone for good since then, a rate of roughly one per day.
The consultancy’s figures are based on how premises are classified for business rates purposes. That means that these are pubs that have vanished for good, either demolished or converted, usually into housing. In all likelihood, hundreds more are standing empty and may never reopen.
Quirkier, independent venues – or small urban pubs that don’t serve food and have no outdoor space – will have suffered the most.
Big chains with deep pockets are better placed to ride it out or even expand. Wetherspoons is among the best-performing pub groups out there, however much people rage against its outspoken founder Tim Martin on social media.
In March the group announced plans to invest £145m to expand and upgrade its network of 871 pubs, creating 2,000 lavori.
Community pub rescues
There may be help at hand for communities who face losing a much-loved boozer.
At the weekend, the government launched a £150m fund that will allow neighbourhoods to club together to run local pubs at risk of closure. Communities in all nations of the UK will be able to bid for government funding to match whatever they can raise themselves, up to a ceiling of £250,000.
Now that mask wearing and social distancing aren’t compulsory, the government has left it up to pubs to reduce the Covid risk.
“People are aware that the pandemic is not over, so pubs will continue to ensure maximum ventilation and many will continue to provide sanitiser and remind people to wash their hands,” said Campaign for Pubs director Greg Mulholland.
“The ‘new normal’, for now, will not necessarily be the same as pre-Covid, but people can make their own decisions and we hope that many people, considering the levels of vaccinations, will support their local pubs again”.
New guidelines place a lot of emphasis on ventilation, either by wedging doors open or installing mechanical air conditioning units or fans. Something to look forward to come the winter.