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Let’s all go to the pub!

What an extraordinarily shortsighted and selfish brain fart this is. It is ill informed and potentially catastrophic to a suburb or town. The author starts “I dont need to tell you this pandemic has been rough” but let me add, it has been especially rough on the hospitality industry.

The global pandemic from which the author has us potentially emerging in sobriety, has decimated the hospitality and tourism sector like few others. As pubs have been forced into four lockdowns, and then only allowed restricted seating and smaller trade, no standing areas and limited patronage, cost cutting measures have already been taken and many are teetering on the edge of survival as it is.

There are so many considerations from this one small act - encouraging people to find alternative activities to the pub, because the author feels left out by her choice? Starting with the obvious - many pubs are single or family owned. These are family businesses, small businesses who are adversely affected by a drop in trade, a drop which has already affected them through the first four lockdowns and potentially crippled them financially. What if they have kids? Maybe they are at school or at uni and now, because of a drop in revenue, will miss out on anything extra curricular if they have anything left at all. Household budgets are already stretched to the limit. Pub owners or lessees have households too.

Those ludicrously over priced drinks? They pay for so much more than the author perhaps realises.

There are the staff, women and men trying to pay their way through university or working a second job to get by because the first four lockdowns have crippled them financially, leaving them with debt to their bank or their landlord. There would be little call for a beer, wine or cocktail expert in a sober bar where we make craft, play board games and drink mocktails. There are so many Australians who lost their jobs in the pandemic in other sectors who are now relying on that job in the pub to keep a roof over their head, and losing it would wreak havoc on their financial position.

There are hundreds of others who rely on the pub. Small businesses who supply fruit and vegetables, proteins, linen, cleaning services, filter cleaners and oil merchants who clean air filters above kitchen grills and fryers, and take away spent oil. The chefs, kitchen hands and cooks who make up the kitchen team are reduced, again, causing havoc to their household budgets. The security stationed at the door and in the venue to make sure patrons are safe from someone going rogue, no longer needed, causing small security businesses to fold and staff to be laid off

The trivia host, the musician, comedy host or the DJ who is making a living by presenting or playing each night in a different pub. They are an extra, a luxury and are no longer affordable and they soon find themselves out of work, wreaking havoc on their household budgets. The ride share and taxi drivers who ferry people across town to meet their mates for a bite to eat and a drink or two in the pub. Again, these people have all suffered immeasurably because of the pandemic, and can ill afford any further loss of trade.

The delivery drivers carting beer, wine, foodstuffs and dry goods to the pub, they find their routes are made smaller, with less deliveries when yet another pub closes. Hours are cut or jobs are lost, one delivery round absorbed into another and staff laid off. The cost of leases for vehicles related to the deliveries will wreak havoc on business budgets and could cripple some, while drivers are forced to find alternatives.

The women and men who service machinery and take care of beer reticulation systems. No longer required. The part time book keeper assisting in managing the finances because owners and their families are working in the pub from 10am to midnight - no longer required. What about the marketing, PR and creative agencies, already working to shoe string budgets to help support the pub with the basics, trying to find inventive ways to drive traffic? They certainly will no longer be required, causing some of them to close and wreaking havoc on their team’s financial positions.

I ask the author, for whatever reason she chooses not to drink, why should hundreds of people suffer by encouraging others to follow her choice? And where is she drinking where taps are mouldy, glasses are sticky and half wiped? I can assure her any pub with this kind of poor hygiene in 2021, either before or in the global pandemic, doesn’t deserve to be open. Health and safety, HACCP and other critical measures are in place to ensure the utmost safety of patrons.

The music is loud because the place is loud. Pubs, by their nature, are large and open spaces where people of all kinds congregate. Some might be watching sport, others on a date. None of these activities are conducive to whispering. The music, along with the poor lighting to which the author alludes, provide atmosphere. They are not designed to be library like. This is not their purpose.

The pub in the regional town or outer suburb - more than likely providing some kind of sponsorship to local causes - the football, netball or cricket club, the local bowls or tennis clubs. They are probably supporting the community in other ways, gifting to charity, the CFA or providing free venue space for service clubs in the hope they might have a couple of drinks or a coffee. If these sponsorships dry up, then clubs and community organisations disappear. Small business owners who are part of these organisations leave town. Entire economies dry up.

Live music has been dying in pubs for years because people are choosing not to go, and dance or watch a band on sticky carpet. Careers have been launched in these pubs, and if we no longer have live music (it is a cost to the pub of course), then we have an homogenous music industry where everything is electronic and nothing sounds authentic anymore.

Low cost, late night socialisation spaces already exist - local cafes are open later, community spaces are open, homes are open. The growth of non or low alcohol spirits, beers and wines mean the non drinker is now better catered for than at any other time in our colonial past. These options will find their way into the local watering hole, and if they haven’t yet, ask. The pub owner would much rather have you there drinking something you like and want. Oh and just for the record, lemon, lime and bitters should be made with fresh lime, soda water, squash and generous drops of (alcoholic) angostura bitters.

Eventually, because we have all found well lit, quiet alternatives with non alcoholic beverages and board games, the pub is forced to shut its doors and the only people who can buy it are developers. The pub either becomes another apartment block or sits, empty and forlorn in the street where once a population bustled and talked inside its doors and out, another example of urban decay.

These are economic factors. There are social factors, particularly for those who find the pub as their place to meet and make friends, for the lonely to potentially find a pal or a partner or make a new connection which can bring something to their life. Pubs, especially those in regional or rural towns are the place where communities gather in a disaster. How many bushfire, flood and drought recoveries have been and will continue to be led by the local pub?

I understand there are times we dont want to or cannot drink. But destroying an entire industry and hundreds of livelihoods because you feel a bit left out at the pub is not the answer. In these most parlous of times, our pubs and small bars need us now, more than ever. I challenge you to go out, have a drink or a meal at your local pub and support the hundreds of people, families and organisations which rely on its very existence. Once we’ve lived through this, lets all go to the pub!

Pete Dillon has had a 35+ year career either in or aligned to hospitality, is the owner of Scoffer Consulting and is the cofounder of Fearless Collective, a Melbourne based marketing, brand and communications group.

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