Pubs should treat reopening ‘as if launching new business’

A pint being pulled in a pub

Hospitality operations reopening on May 17 should treat it as though they are opening a new business, says James Shipp Picture: WAVEBREAKMEDIA LTD - Credit: Getty Images/Wavebreak Media

The reopening of indoor hospitality on May 17 will be full of pitfalls, an East Anglian financial expert has warned.

Top accountant James Shipp Lovewell Blake said while the date marks a welcome return for many businesses without outdoor spaces, they will be confronted by a host of problems ranging from deferred VAT bills to possible staff shortages.

“Treat the grand reopening as if you were starting a new business. You will need a marketing plan to tell your customers that you are trading again. You will need a training plan to ensure your workforce is ready to return to work and pick up where they left off a year ago,” he said. “You need to plan properly or you will encounter all the pitfalls facing any start-up.”

They will have to combat “a lingering feeling of fear and uncertainty among a significant portion of the population about leaving their homes after all this time”, he warned.

While on April 12 outdoor hospitality returned, many venues had no outdoor space. So the scheduled return of indoor hospitality for restaurants, pubs and cafes on May 17 will be a pivotal moment for an industry in trouble. But Mr Shipp is warning the region’s sector to adopt a plan of action for reopening, and to temper their expectations.

“The past year has had a profound effect on people’s behaviour, and it’s unlikely that they will be switching back to their pre-Covid normality anytime soon – if at all,” he said.

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He advised venues to adapt by offering elements of the business which worked during lockdown such as takeaways and pop-ups – and put together a business plans for reopening.

Firms will need a financial plan for re-stocking, but owners can’t assume that they will take off where they left off. They also need to look at what discretionary support from local councils is on offer – and also national initiatives, he said.

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“Organisations such as the BID (Business Improvement District), the Chamber of Commerce and even local tourism bodies are all offering advice on what is available,” he said.

“Unincorporated business owners can take advantage of the fourth and fifth tranches of the Self-Employed income Support Scheme (SEISS), which covers the periods February to April and May to July respectively.”

There were other financial support mechanisms to help get hospitality back on its feet, he said. Hospitality businesses will get a 100% discount on their business rates until the end of June, and then a two-thirds discount right through until March 31, 2022. 

The VAT rate on hospitality businesses will remain at its current 5% rate until the end of September, and will then move to an interim rate of 12.5%. It won’t return to its full rate of 20% until April 2022, he said.

Those planning a pre-opening refurbishment could be eligible for the chancellor’s new ‘Super Deduction’ tax relief – and hospitality and leisure businesses are entitled to a £18,000 Restart Grant to help them with the costs of reopening through their local council.

Businesses will also need to be aware that social distancing rules remain. While these could be relaxed further in June, even customers who have had both doses of coronavirus vaccine may want to know it is safe to venture out to restaurants and pubs, he said.

“Visible safety measures – even when they are no longer mandated by law – will help to build this confidence, and reassure customers that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe,” he said.

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