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‘It’s harder to open than to close’ admits Greene King boss grappling challenge of how to come out of lockdown

PUBLISHED: 11:20 04 May 2020 | UPDATED: 11:20 04 May 2020

When will scenes like this return in the UK's pubs  Picture: GREENE KING

When will scenes like this return in the UK's pubs Picture: GREENE KING

GREENE KING

The boss of a Suffolk-based pubs and brewery giant admits he faces a number of headaches when he finally gets to reopen premises post coronavirus lockdown.

Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, who is taking a cautious approach to planning his lockdown exit strategy  Picture: ADAM SMYTHNick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, who is taking a cautious approach to planning his lockdown exit strategy Picture: ADAM SMYTH

Like many big and small pub owners, Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King in Bury St Edmunds is grappling with the challenge of how to bring his 38,000-strong workforce – 98% of whom are furloughed – back to work and restoring some semblance of normality in pubs once lockdown eases.

Speaking to a national newspaper, he revealed his desire for at least three weeks’ notice to any lifting of restrictions in order to get staff off furlough and stock back into pubs.

MORE – Under-fire brewery giant defends decision over pub tenant rents

Tim Martin, boss of rival pub chain JD Wetherspoon has outlined his plans to reopen pubs across the UK as early as June, in the belief that the larger size of his premises will assist in the physical distancing required under rules to prevent disease spread.

But Mr Mackenzie sees a gradual easing for his 2,700 pubs, with fresh real ale sold in cartons as a possible first step.

Drinkers enjoying a Greene King IPA at a bar pre-lockdown  Picture: BECKY HAYWOODDrinkers enjoying a Greene King IPA at a bar pre-lockdown Picture: BECKY HAYWOOD

The £2.2bn turnover group has seen sales shrivel to a fraction of what they were with only beer sales to retail outlets still providing an income.

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He envisages that customers could order pints by phone and have them served using social distancing rules, and the group has started home delivery trials to see how they might work. Pub gardens might be the first areas to reopen.

“It’s actually harder to open than to close,” he admitted.

Mr Mackenzie, who is working from his home in Buckinghamshire during lockdown and holding Zoom meetings with staff, has taken a 50% pay cut during the crisis.

A trend among some of Greene King’s tenants to serve as grocery pick-up spots for customer may continue, he believes.

But big headaches on the practical front include how to deliver beer barrels – which takes two people – while observing social distancing.

The group has already promised to replenish stale beer languishing in its tenant pubs’ cellars during lockdown, which will prove a big logistical challenge.

Greene King’s brewery operation in Bury St Edmunds remains open, although it is being run with a depleted workforce working to social distancing rules.

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