Coming out of lockdown in my own words: Frank Murphy, The Pot Still, Glasgow

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Frank Murphy and his family manage Glasgow’s Pot Still on Hope Street. Here’s his account of how business went after coming out of lockdown…

That’s the first weekend done. I’m knackered but it’s not from being back on shift and back on my feet; I’m mentally tired. The new set-up means the customer experience is altered and how they can move about the bar has changed as well.

Most people understand that and most people are very helpful in working with us. But having to explain to wee Hugh why he can’t just stand at the bar the way he has every day he’s been in the pub, or why he can’t get up and go and stand in the passageway to talk to another table, was a bit more difficult.

We’ve had to change our way of working quite profoundly. We never ran table service before; it isn’t really practical to talk about whisky removed from the gantry where it sits. So we’ve had to look at how best to replicate that experience without carrying armfuls of bottles to each table. On that basis, we know that how we’re working today will not be the same way we work next week.

For example, we opened on Friday for the weekend asking customers to book 2-hour slots for tables ahead of time. We reasoned that having a wee bit of control over when customers were arriving and leaving would give us as a team a bit of time to get to grips with the new procedures. Now that we’re up to speed we can welcome people walking in off the street again, which makes it feel just a wee bit more like normal.

But it’s far from normal yet.

With the team wearing facemasks there’s a disconnect from the customer that we have to work harder to bridge. And speak louder and clearer to be understood (Odd fact; you can’t whistle wearing a facemask). And it won’t, can’t physically, be as busy as it was. So while all our team are still on furlough, we’re bringing them back part-time while the furlough scheme continues.

It’s the one big problem I have with the assistance the Scottish Government has given. We’ve benefited from the rates holiday, applied for every deferral and grant going, and the UK Government’s furlough scheme has been a business and job saver for many. There is a lot to commend. But the guidance for re-opening is far too woolly.

As a trade, we’re used to working within layer upon layer of regulations and stipulations. Guidelines and advice don’t offer the reassurance that you’re hitting the mark. So we’ve all had our thinking caps on; how we’ve implemented the guidelines has been a full team effort, not a top-down instruction, with all the team giving helpful feedback and suggestions. But you have a niggle at the back of your head that you’ve missed something, that you’re going to get dug up for something you’ve missed or interpreted differently.

I look forward to welcoming Hugh back to his spot at the bar, next to the pie machine, crossword unfurled. I look forward to pulling down a handful of bottles of whisky to let customers examine and smell. I look forward to not wearing a mask. Even if it finally means I need to get a beard trim. This too shall pass.

We’ll get through. We’ve got a wider catchment area than most pubs that gives us more insulation. It’s the “normal” locals that I worry for.

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