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Some pubs and restaurants aren't reopening indoor dining over health and logistical concerns

Unvaccinated staff, fear of public backlash and no counter service are among the reasons some pubs and restaurants aren’t reopening indoor areas.

Glynn's Bar in Oranmore Co Galway.
Glynn's Bar in Oranmore Co Galway.
Image: Glynn's Bar

AFTER MANY FALSE dawns for the hospitality industry, the long-awaited return of indoor dining is now just days away. But many businesses are foregoing bringing customers back inside for various reasons, including concerns for unvaccinated staff and difficulties with the vaccine pass system.

Along with all the logistical headaches of another uncertain reopening on a tight timeframe, many in the hospitality sector have been grappling with the increased likelihood of unvaccinated staff being exposed to Covid-19 in an indoor setting.

For Sean Ó Máille of Glynn’s Bar in Oranmore, Co Galway, the decision not to reopen the inside of his pub came as a great relief following lengthy consideration.   

“Some of the staff came to us with concerns, they’re mostly early 20s, so they won’t be vaccinated for weeks and the vaccines won’t be effective for another few weeks following that,” Ó Máille explained.

My wife and I, we sat down and we talked about it, she said ‘look, we don’t have to open’ and we both felt a sort of relief instantaneously. So, it was the right way to go.

“We just thought, some of them are worried, we’ll do well enough outside and the welfare and health of our staff is paramount to us,” he added.

For Rory O’Neill of Pantibar, one of Dublin’s best known gay bars, low levels of staff vaccination were also a deciding factor.  

“The staff are all young and in their 20s and, to be perfectly honest with you, they don’t give a crap, they think they’re going to live forever,” O’Neill told The Journal. 

“So, it’s not something that comes from them, but I just feel that I have some responsibility about it as if I don’t want them to be working unvaccinated indoors at the moment,” he added.

Along with high levels of young, unvaccinated staff, Kevin Nugent of Tribe Hospitality Group cited fears about implementing the vaccine certificate system and difficult customers as factors in deciding not to reopen indoors.

“Being truthful, I felt I wasn’t going to be comfortable standing at the front door. I felt we would have to deal with a bit of backlash from the general public, that was one element. So, if I felt I couldn’t do it, I didn’t expect any of my staff to do it,” Nugent explained.

Tribe Hospitality operates seven restaurants in Galway, three of which remain closed entirely due to Covid-19 restrictions and the current business environment.

Traditional pubs

The stringency of the guidelines being introduced has also led some businesses to keep their doors closed, with a lack of counter service a deciding factor for traditional pubs.

Joe Sheridan, chairman of the Galway Vintners Federation of Ireland, says one in every eight pubs will remain shut because the guidelines are too strict. 

“The big losers again are the thousands of family run, small, traditional pubs across the country who cannot use their counters to serve customers. Not every pub is a ‘gastro’ pub with table service,” the publican said.

Where is the ‘vaccination benefit’ in this plan? If vaccinated customers can’t be served at the counter by vaccinated staff?

Sheridan is the owner of Walsh’s pub in Dunmore, north Galway, and a Fianna Fáil councillor. He accused the State of using public health edicts to carry out a “pubocide” against traditional Irish pubs.

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Outdoor areas

Ó Máille built an extensive outdoor area in Glynn’s last summer, complete with perspex roofing and a pizza restaurant.

O’Neill’s Pantibar and its neighbour PennyLane were allocated parking spaces by Dublin City Council to facilitate outdoor dining and the area quickly developed a thriving social scene.

Tribe’s flagship Ground & Co restaurant in Salthill also has an impressive outdoor dining area, with benches for customers, buskers for entertainment and a stunning view of Galway Bay and the Clare hills.

The business owners all acknowledged that they are lucky to have outdoor spaces and expressed sympathy with colleagues in the hospitality industry who aren’t as fortunate.

“Personally, I feel this is great for the places that haven’t been able to open at all,” Nugent said. 

They can’t do takeaway, they’ve no outdoor seating. This is an opportunity for them, if they can work it, that’s down to every seperate business.

One such business is the Castle Inn on South Main Street in Cork city. The pub has been run by the O’Donovan family since the 1930s and the current proprietor Michael O’Donovan says reopening indoors is essential for the business to survive.

With government support schemes set to cease shortly, the publican says he has to restart trading or the pub simply won’t be able to pay its bills.

I’m the third generation in our business and I don’t want to be the one that’s turning out the lights and locking the doors. So I have to get open and get trading because the business won’t survive otherwise. 

Additional reporting from Laura Byrne.

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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