After three months away, it was incredibly strange opening up at the pub where I do shifts. As I set up with my colleague Sammy, we both felt really anxious about whether customers would be happy to socially distance, and whether we’d even know what to say to them if they weren’t.
In the past, July and August have always been the busiest months at the pub where I work in Surrey. And on Saturday, as I carried out my first shift since March, it rivalled any of those days.
I began at 7:30am and finally finished at midnight, without stopping for a break or even to go to the loo (although I was entitled to to do both!). It was incredibly hectic, hot and sweaty.
The team served 230 people on Saturday and around 200 on Sunday – and that was at reduced capacity. We put half the tables outside and sat guests at every other table inside.
It was also bookings only, and my boss told me that over the course of the weekend we turned away at least 200 people as there just wasn’t room.
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Before lockdown, we would have let customers stay seated for several hours; now we had two lunch sittings and two at dinner, and guests only had two and a half hours before they had to leave.
I also hadn’t had to communicate with people for months, so it felt really strange. The pub owners had furloughed all the staff at the start of the pandemic, and I had been living at home with my sister and really only seeing her.
Going from speaking to practically no one to talking to hundreds of people in one day felt bizarre, but after the first couple of tables I slipped back into it.
From the off, our customers were clearly excited to be able to drink alcohol. The first couple who came in asked what time we were serving from and the gentleman told me he ‘really needed a draught beer’. Another table was ordering Prosecco by 10am.
They definitely weren’t the only ones – the pub was filled with a really strong celebratory atmosphere and there was a noticeable demand for extravagant drinks, including Champagne. In the evening we sold a lot more tequila shots than we ever normally do.
As reports on the news started to come in about drunk people being out of control and getting into fights, it really surprised me. We had a handful of people on both days that were drinking heavily and went a bit overboard, but they were harmless and left as soon as we asked them to.
Most people just seemed really happy to be out – one couple told me they were enjoying not eating another takeaway, or having to clean up after themselves.
Everyone was in a brilliant mood. A technical hitch with our ordering system meant that some ended up waiting quite a while to be served, but no one complained – something that would never have happened before coronavirus.
People forget that lots of pubs have taken this seriously and put precautions in place
Despite my concerns before I started my shift, everyone was more than happy to keep to social distancing measures. A few arrived wearing masks but discarded them soon after when they realised no one else was wearing them. Personally, it felt like a huge relief that I was able to make my customers feel comfortable and secure enough to take them off.
We had gloves available to use if people wanted us to, and in the two weeks before opening, the pub owners had an app built so customers could get served without going to the bar.
I was surprised that hardly any of them used it – most people were keen to come up and order, or to have a chat with me and my colleagues at their tables. I think everyone wanted that sense of normality back after so long.
I must admit that at first I felt cautious – but then everyone is when it comes to coronavirus. However, as the hours flew by I became more and more confident and felt completely safe.
It probably helps that I’m 21, don’t have any underlying health issues and none of my family are high risk either. I also took precautions all day, washing my hands between serving each table and using the hand sanitiser the pub provided, even if it meant my skin was cracked and sore by the end of my shift.
It had been so busy that my feet were in agony, despite wearing comfortable trainers. It was all I could do not to crawl up the stairs and slide back down them.
The pub is open permanently from now on and I am so happy to be back at work. The owners furloughed all the staff at the beginning of lockdown but managed to keep all of our jobs. While I tried not to take the time off for granted, there came a point where I just wanted to have something to do.
I also missed my colleagues. We had grown really close over the course of last year, especially at Christmas, and it was hard to be apart during lockdown. Being back together over the weekend was amazing, and we were all buzzing off one another and helping each other out.
I finished college a year ago and I had been planning on going traveling, but coronavirus meant I had to cancel my plans. I’ve decided to stay at the pub and try and work my way up instead.
I’m exhausted today but I am really looking forward to my next shift this week. During lockdown, the pub did online grocery shops for anyone who was shielding and it became a real focal point of the community. I really felt that sense of unity over the weekend we’ve just had.
There’s been too much of a focus on the negative aspects of the pubs reopening, which is misleading. People forget that lots of establishments have taken this seriously and put precautions in place.
That’s why I’d say to anyone, please don’t be afraid to go into a pub. Us employees are all learning and trying our very best, too. It is possible to have a safe and joyful time.
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