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'Stepping stone to normality': Relief for some, ongoing worries for others as pubs and restaurants open outdoor spaces

Some wet pubs will be reopening for the first time in 15 months.

001 Budget Hospitality People seated in outside dining areas in Dublin City centre last October Source: Sasko Lazarov via RollingNews.ie

THOUSANDS OF PUBS and restaurants across the country are reopening their doors today for the first time in months as outdoor dining returns. 

Some wet pubs will be reopening for the first time in 15 months since closing their doors in March 2020. 

Outside Dublin, wet pubs were permitted to reopen for a few weeks last September before Covid-19 restrictions saw them shut again. However, in the capital wet pubs remained closed. 

One such pub that will be welcoming customers back for the first time in 15 months is Grogan’s in Dublin city centre. 

“It’s been a very long year,” publican at Grogan’s, Daniel Smith, told The Journal, saying he found the past year “very testing and really tough”. 

“I think people really want to get back and we can’t wait to have them back,” he said. “It’s been such a long time.” 

“I’ve worked 40 hours a week here right through secondary school and right through college. So when you’re working 40 hours a week, and we’ve got a lot of regulars, you get to know these people quite well,” Smith said. 

“You develop friendships with them, we know about their life, they know about ours. To not be able to see them for 15 months, there’s a big social gap that’s created in all our lives,” he said. 

“We’re really looking forward to seeing them and getting back and get chatting.” 

2123 Pubs Closed Grogan's pub in Dublin City Centre Source: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

Grogan’s, located on South William Street, is aiming to have seating for around 50 to 70 people outside.

Guidelines released by Fáilte Ireland last month outline that outdoor service is permitted for a maximum of 6 persons aged 13 or over per table.

This limit of 6 does not include accompanying children aged 12 or younger, with the total combined capacity at a table not allowed to exceed 15 overall. 

For both food and drink, the guidelines say that the premises must be empty of all patrons by 11.30pm. No live music or performances are permitted. 

In terms of social distancing and time limits, one-metre distance is required between tables for outdoor service and there is no time-limit if this is in place. 

Another Dublin pub reopening for outdoor service today is The Swan on Aungier Street.

Publican Ronan Lynch told The Journal that they have “gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of our staff and our customers”. 

“People will come in, there will be contact tracing, they will be shown to a table that’s been sanitised, there’s hand sanitizer all over the place, the tables will be spaced out accordingly,” Lynch said. 

“The paramount thing is the safety of both our staff and our customers and we’ll be taking every necessary precaution to ensure their safety.” 

004 Swan The Swan bar in Dublin city centre Source: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

Outdoor drinking

As weather conditions improved in recent weeks, Dublin city centre has seen an increase in groups of people drinking and socialising in parks and on the streets. 

Last weekend saw gardaí clear large numbers of people from St Stephen’s Green as crowds gathered two nights in a row in Dublin city centre. 

Crowds in the South William Street area and Temple Bar were also dispersed by gardaí. 

When asked whether he thinks drinking is public spaces will continue even with the reopening of outdoor dining, Daniel Smith he believes there’s a “real eagerness” and a “serious appetite” among the public to return to pubs. 

However, he added: “In terms of demographics and the people drinking in parks, there wouldn’t be as much overlap as you might think.” 

Ronan Lynch said he thinks people are looking forward to “having a pint, in glass, in a pub”. 

“The pub, I always say it’s the people’s church, where people meet on a mutual ground and sit down and have a pint. That’s what people are looking forward to,” he said. 

Lynch said getting the outdoor area of the pub reopened today feels like a “stepping stone to getting back to full normality”. 

outdoor dinning 653 Road signs indicating an area for outdoor dining in Dublin city Source: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

While pubs and restaurants can only open for outdoor dining from today, indoor dining is set to return on 5 July. Hotels and B&Bs, however, reopened on 2 June and can offer indoor restaurant and bar service, but only to overnight guests and residents.

And as thousands of pubs and restaurants welcome customers back for outdoor dining today, there are many that don’t have outdoor space or facilities and will have to remain shut until indoor dining returns on 5 July. 

In Cork City, the Castle Inn is one such pub that will have to wait another four weeks to reopen. 

Publican Michael O’Donovan said the pub closed its doors to the public on 14 March last year ahead of Covid-19 restrictions coming into effect. 

“Little did we know that 15 months later we’d be closed for as long as we have been. We only got to open for a little over two week in September,” O’Donovan said. 

“Our pub is one of the oldest in Cork City, it’s been in the family since the 1930s and it’s never seen closure like this.” 

O’Donovan said it has been hard seeing hotels being permitted to reopen for indoor dining before pubs and restaurants. 

“I suppose we could have been open at the same time as them, but the government didn’t see fit of that and that’s disappointing,” he said. “But the optimistic view is that 5 July won’t be long coming around.” 

Financial supports

Both O’Donovan and Lynch said they have seen staff move on to other jobs since they were last open. 

Lynch said it has been “a massive challenge trying to get staff back” and that they have lost a number of employees. 

“I have a couple of guys there who have stayed very loyal, who are coming back but there are others who obviously have moved onto other things,” he said. 

At Castle Inn, three part-time staff members have left for other jobs. 

O’Donovan said: “You can’t blame them because they have different situations, they have families.

“I’ve been engaging with them, it’s going to be difficult to try attract them back. I suppose, when we start off we’ll have restrictions and I can’t maybe given them all the hours that they are looking for.

“But in times to come, hopefully when restrictions are lifted, I might be in a position to offer more hours.” 

IMG_3246 Michael O'Donovan alongside his wife and three children outside The Castle Inn

Last week, the government announced a range of measures to help businesses reopen as restrictions ease, but confirmed the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) will be phased out in the coming months. 

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The PUP will be extended beyond 30 June for existing claimants “in recognition that opportunities to return to work will remain impacted, in some sectors, by public health restrictions in the short term”, the Government’s plan notes.

However, it was confirmed that “given current progress in delivering vaccines and re-opening the economy, it is planned to close the scheme to new applicants from 1 July”.

The current weekly rates of support will be gradually reduced over three phases by €50 increments.

The Taoiseach told reporters that the tourism sector didn’t put pressure on him to lower the PUP amount in order to get young people to go back to work in that sector. He said people want to go back to work.

In October, the government launched a new Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS), a cashflow support scheme paid to businesses that are severely hampered in how they can operate due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But as the tourism and hospitality sectors open back up this month, the Government is expecting less and less businesses will qualify. So the Government is giving businesses that are coming off the CRSS a ”bullet payment on reopening”, as Tánaiste Leo Varadkar called it.

It will come in the form of a double payment for three weeks, up to a maximum of €30,000. ”That’s going to be very helpful in terms of cash flow, restocking, and re-engaging with employees,” he said.

A new scheme will start in September this year for businesses that are still struggling to resume operations in the autumn, where their turnover is 75% lower than it was in 2019.

These businesses will receive a further grant in the autumn up to a maximum of €15,000.

Daniel Smith said it’s “important now that supports continue”.  

“We’re not looking at a point where there’s going to be a eureka moment straight away where everything’s fine again,” he said. 

“It’s important that supports aren’t cut off straight away, but it’s been quite encouraging to see there’s been a package announced.” 

Michael O’Donovan added that publicans “could have done with more help” along the way, but added that he is “very grateful for the help that was there”.

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