BAR TEAMS across Wokingham are prepared to welcome back customers this Saturday — with several social distancing changes in place.
As the long awaited visit to the local edges closer, Wokingham.Today has spoken to landlords as they dust down the cobwebs and reopen their doors after three months of closure.
Significant changes may include staggered entry times, booking systems, one way routes, queuing and reduced bar contact.
Opening times and menus may change and toilets will be managed, with many operating a one-in, one-out system, and additional hygiene measures will be in place.
Peter Biancheri, general manager of The Dog and Duck, Emmbrook said: “We can’t wait to re-open this Saturday and slowly get back to normal.
“We’ve made a lot of changes to ensure the safety of our staff and customers such as segregated tables, sanitising stations, a one way system and queuing to get into the venue.
“We’re also asking our customers to book in advance so we can monitor the number of people coming into the venue.
He added: “Saturday is completely booked and Sunday is almost full, so we encourage visitors to plan ahead to avoid disappointment.
“Our garden area is also available for customers to sit in — which is looking great now we’ve finished cutting the metre tall grass.”
The Government has asked pubs to keep a temporary log of customers for 21 days to assist with the NHS Test and Trace service.
In preparation for this change, Emmbrook’s Rifle Volunteer has designed a website for customers to register their details before visiting.
Landlord of the Reading Road pub, Graham Howarth said: “We’re really looking forward to opening and serving our regulars again.
“We aren’t taking bookings but every customer will need to be added to our attendee list before entering the pub.
“Due to social distancing laws we have had to reduce our capacity, move tables further apart and mark off certain areas.
“We are lucky, however, to have a garden which customers can enjoy their drinks in.”
Mr Howarth — who has spent the last 14 weeks renovating the pub — added: “We’ve also introduced a one-way system which will see customers enter via the front door where they will register their details before placing their order and paying.
“They will then move further down the bar to collect their drink and be directed to either a table or the garden area.
“We will be updating our Facebook page regularly to keep customers informed about the changes and what they can expect when visiting.”
But not all pubs share the same enthusiasm for Saturday’s reopening.
Owner of The Redan and Bar 56, Andy Rogers said: “The re-opening of pubs is a double edged sword.
“It’s good that we can re-open again and earn the money we need to keep our bars going, but a difficult decision in terms of the safety of our staff and customers.
“In my opinion the Government has handled the situation badly. We’ve gone from being closed for three and a half months to suddenly being told we can open in a week and a half.”
“With all the changes that we’ve had to make in this short space of time, it’s become a very stressful period rather than an exciting one.
“In my opinion pubs should have been shut for another month — but we have to reopen to save our businesses.”
Since the reopening date announcement, Mr Rogers has adapted his bars by reducing capacity from 224 to 50, and ordering PPE for his staff.
He said: “The most important thing for me is keeping my team safe.
“I have staff members who have vulnerable family members and partners so need to ensure they feel comfortable with the changes.
“We have also altered our opening times, so where we used to open at 4pm or 5pm, we will open much earlier at 12pm.
“The reasoning behind this is that lots of people are still working from home or furloughed, so customers who would visit us on the weekend can now come to us mid-week to avoid disappointment on Saturday or Sunday when it’s likely to be busier.
“I’ve also made arrangements for customers to collect takeaway drinks and enjoy them in Peach Place. One of my bars has been open for 14 years, and the other for three years but it feels like I’m preparing to open two new businesses this Saturday.
“We are returning to a very new norm. I fear we will have to face failure before success during this very big leap.”
Punters are advised to check their local’s website or social media page before visiting for information about changes to their services. And some pubs are remaining closed to make changes for everyone’s safety.
Executive member for business and economic development Cllr Stuart Munro, said: “We have been working closely with Thames Valley Police, our town and parish councils, Wokingham Business Association, Love Wokingham, Twyford Together, Woodley Town Centre and the licensees of pubs and restaurants across the borough to plan the safe reopening of our hospitality industry.
“We want to reassure the public that is safe to come together to drink and dine in all our venues, and we hope everyone approaches the reopening with a sense of kindness, understanding, and shared social responsibility.
“Our partners at Thames Valley Police and the Public Protection Partnership will be out and about on Saturday, particularly in Wokingham town centre, to support our local businesses by ensuring they have all of the appropriate measures in place and also to reassure our residents that it’s safe to come back into town.
“Pre-planning your pub or restaurant visit is crucial – not only to check whether your chosen venue will be opening, but also to find out whether you need to reserve a table and understand any systems the venue has in place to keep you safe.
“We expect to see high demand for pubs particularly in our town and village centres this weekend and we strongly advise booking in advance.”