Wetherspoons pledge £11 million to make pubs safe after coronavirus
- Credit: Archant
JD Wetherspoon pubs in Suffolk will reopen with screens at bars and tables as the firm is set to spend £11 million to keep customers safe from coronavirus.
The chain owns 875 pubs, including branches in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury, and will hire two full-time workers in each to regularly clean surfaces and touch points throughout, with more employed in larger pubs.
Laying out the future plans for bringing customers back through its doors, bosses added all staff will be provided with gloves, masks and protective eyewear for those who want it.
In a detailed update, Wetherspoons added: “There will be an average 10 hand sanitiser dispensers around the pub, including at the entrance for customers and staff to use.”
On opening again, bosses said they have been speaking extensively to staff, suppliers, contractors and trade body UK Hospitality for guidance, including 2,500 suggestions from workers.
Founder and chairman Tim Martin faced heavy criticism as lockdown was being introduced.
He first said he would withhold salaries from staff, before reversing the decision, called for a relaxed lockdown similar to the Netherlands so his pubs could keep trading and warned suppliers may not be paid either.
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Since then, Wetherspoons has revealed the business rates holiday announced by the Government saved the firm £60 million and shareholders were tapped up for £141 million as the lockdown took hold.
Mr Martin’s wealth has also fallen by around £230 million as shares in Wetherspoons, of which he owns 32%, have fallen by more than 40% since the start of the year.
An exact date for reopening remains unclear, although Government guidance for pubs is to plan for welcoming back customers in July.
It is understood there are ongoing discussions between ministers and the industry over whether beer gardens could be opened sooner.
On Wetherspoon’s plans, the company said customers would be closely watched to ensure social distancing.
It explained: “Dedicated staff will monitor the pub at all times in order to maintain social distancing standards and there will be a member of staff on the door at peak times.
“The pubs will use one entrance with a separate exit door where possible.”
Customers will be asked to pay via the Wetherspoons app or use contactless debit and credit cards.
However, cash will still be accepted, it added.
Food will also be served again, but with a reduced menu to allow kitchen staff enough safe space and condiments including ketchup, salt and pepper will only be available in sachets.
Staff will also need to complete and sign a daily health assessment questionnaire to confirm that they are fit to work and have a digital thermometer temperature check.
Wetherspoon chief executive John Hutson said: “At present the Government have not confirmed any reopening date for pubs.
“However, it is important that we are prepared for any announcement.
“We have spent a number of weeks consulting with staff who work in our pubs, as well as area managers in order to draw up our plans.”
The chain is also looking at ways to raise more funds by applying for the Bank of England’s loan scheme for large companies.
EasyJet and Greggs have both applied.
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But Wetherspoons said previously that its business not being “investment grade” on some measures, may make it difficult.
The 43,000 workers across 875 pubs received around 80% of their salaries in March, despite the boss previously warning workers they would not be paid until Government funds had reached Wetherspoon’s accounts.
The company revealed last month in the six weeks to March 8 increased 3.2%, but fell 4.5% in the week to March 15, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson announcing a full lockdown a week later.
Previous cost-cutting measures also include new pub openings on hold until 2022, with around five a year from then.
Rent has been deferred and directors have also taken pay cuts.