By Michael Bergson – SoHo Glasgow Bar
19th March (exactly 3 weeks ago) we were still trading. Our venues remained open except The Variety Bar. We took the decision to close VBar that week. As a small pub, it was impossible to implement social spacing . How do you tell your regulars to sit at opposite ends of a bar? Can you even stop them from sitting at the bar? ‘Excuse me sir, would you mind not sitting at the bar and can you please drink your pint of Tennent’s over in that corner?’ I couldn’t see that working and it wasn’t fair on the staff to continue. SoHo, Little SoHo and both of our Buck’s Bars remained open and all were still reasonably busy. We were actually having to turn a lot of business away at times. Just like everyone else in the trade, we had introduced many additional safety measures. We were also making plans to start Operation Takeaway and Delivery in the event of a governmental shut down.
We’d taken the decision to stay open as long as possible simply because we wanted to give as many of our team as possible the chance to keep earning a wage. The staff were healthy, earning good money and all was going well. I told my managers ‘we won’t shut until they force us’.
Then I woke up on Thursday 19th with what seemed to be symptoms of Covid 19. Thankfully I was lucky to only experience milder symptoms (just like flu with added lost sense of taste and smell). My wife Michelle and my area manager Ashley also fell ill later that day. I was worried. Who else had I potentially passed this on to? Can you imagine if I’d stayed open knowing that a few team members could potentially have Coronavirus? I started having nightmares of being shamed live on GMTV by Piers Morgan for being a greedy superspreading moron. I then made the (somewhat prophetic) call that Friday 20th would be our last day of trading before shutting down for the forseeable.
To be honest, I still had doubts regarding my decision. Had we done the right thing? What if I only had a cold? Would there even be an enforced shutdown at all? Was it possible that the UK would follow the Sweden example? I mean the Schools were still open for goodness sake! I switch on the news and Tim Martin the Wetherspoons owner (and a big Tory donor) is beating the drum for all hospitality venues to stay open. Could Boris’s big bouffant Brexit buddy Tim possibly be exerting his influence on the PM to keep venues open? We were fully booked for Saturday and Sunday. Were we being rash in cancelling all those bookings? But no, this virus had now infiltrated our staff. We had no choice. It was necessary to close.
We told the staff we would pay a percentage of all management salaries until our money ran out. We have 70 staff in total. All we could afford to do for the rest was to ask them to take leave of pay. This would mean we would pay them one final week’s wages and then a final guaranteed pay of £145 per person. After that they would be able to work elsewhere or apply for Universal Credit. The staff understood but the thought of having to do this made me feel sick.
Friday night, Boris made THAT announcement. ‘Close as soon as possible’. Then huge news as Rishi Sunak announced the 80% job retention scheme. The manager Whatsapp chat group went wild! The team were so relieved. It was music to our ears.
Sunak’s announcement was a massive weight off of our shoulders. We had enough cash to pay staff their 80% for a while but were slightly worried about how long it would take for grant money to filter through to businesses. We fortunately received our £25,000 grants this week so all staff have been furloughed and are receiving their 80%. By the time the grant runs out then we hope to have received the furlough payback from the government (we hear it will come through at the end of April). So it looks like we are covered at least until June.
Operation Takeaway and Delivery has now been shelved. For example how do you convince a staff member who is getting paid, say, £400 for sitting at home safely watching Netflix to come and do a week’s work for an extra £100 per week. Even less after travel expenses. Then there’s the risk of them contracting the virus. Even if their symptoms are mild then they could end up on SSP and actually earn a lot less than the furlough pay.
It’s at times like this you see the best of our industry. All of our suppliers have been amazing. We will 100% make sure that all suppliers credit is fully up to date by the time all of this ends. Landlords in the main have also been great with 4 out of 5 offering 3 month rent holidays. So many customers have sent messages of encouragement.
Who knows how long this will continue but one things for certain. When we come back, it will be with a bang!