The ancient Babylonians and Hebrews would have been excellent publicans or restaurateurs, since they knew, as did John Wesley, that cleanliness was next to godliness. By prioritising mundane cleaning tasks, the number of things that can go wrong in a pub is dramatically reduced. Clean beer lines and glasses ensure good beer. And clean kitchens, tables and cutlery help to prevent a plethora of potential problems, which can drastically undermine even the most high-falutin celebrity chef.
McDonald’s realised this years ago and conquered the world – and Wetherspoon copied McDonald's. Both companies are at the very top of the local authorities’ publicly available league tables for cleanliness.
The key to running a company like Wetherspoon, with 43,000 staff, is always to tap the knowledge of employees. Their collective insight far outweighs that of senior management. We have received over 2,500 suggestions from employees, so far, for improving safety in pubs post-reopening. By prioritising the views of employees, and by keeping one eye on suggestions from suppliers, government advice and customers, Wetherspoon has produced a comprehensive selection of social distancing initiatives.
The relatively inexpensive part, about £10,000 to £15,000 per pub, relates to items like perspex screens, hand sanitising equipment and industrial quantities of gloves and masks for employees. Each pub will have ten or so hand sanitiser stations, including one at the door for customers to use. Bottles of ketchup and mayonnaise will also be replaced by individual sachets.
But the real expense is the investment in two or more extra employees per pub, who will implement additional surface and touchpoint cleaning through the day and evening: a hefty £40 million per annum.
In order for the pub industry, as a whole, to arrest decades of pre-covid-19 decline, the nettle of tax equality between pubs and supermarkets will have to be grasped .
Today’s tax regime dates from an era in which pubs sold little food, and supermarkets little beer. Pubs currently pay 20 per cent VAT on food sales and 20 pence a pint of business rates. Supermarkets pay almost no VAT on food and only two pence per pint of rates. Without these reforms, social distancing costs risk breaking the camel’s back.
In the meantime, our pubs, and the pub industry generally, will be extremely vigilant in adhering to social distancing measures, so as to minimise risks to staff and customers.
Tim Martin is founder and chairman of JD Wetherspoon