Public houses, a staple of British culture and social interaction, are amongst some of the worst affected businesses since the pandemic hit the UK. Both staff and customers alike were disheartened by the implementation of table service in pub settings. While necessary to slow the spread of Covid-19, it obstructed the magic that makes your local the familiar haven that it is. What I’m referring to is the personal connection with your regulars and the community beyond, curated alongside good beer, pub grub and staff that offer the warmest of welcomes. That magic is exactly why pubs matter.
After leaving a corporate hospitality chain to transition into pub management, the biggest change to my working environment came with the opportunity to develop more personal and community centred relationships.
In a high-paced restaurant role, solidifying connections with customers was near impossible, but all that changes when you’re standing behind the pump clips. Within a matter of weeks, I knew regulars’ names, and they knew mine. I knew what course their son studied at university, I was getting regular updates on their great aunt’s hip surgery, I knew when they were driving down south to collect a new girlfriend for their Giant Schnauzer. And they knew all about me, just because I poured them a Harvest Pale three or four times a week.
“Just by keeping her table for her, we were giving her a form of support that she really needed.”
One particularly notable example of this familiarity was with a regular who had recently lost her husband. I spoke to her initially to sort out a recurring booking for the coming weeks, as she regularly attends the pub with a close friend and their dogs. Each week, I began looking forward to seeing her, making sure she had her favourite table in the middle of the pub. One week, she told me that her husband had passed away, and she explained how keeping the routine and visiting us each week, was keeping her going. This meant so much to me; to know that just by keeping her table for her, we were giving her a form of support that she really needed. Through something that simple, we were making a huge difference. That’s the magic I’m talking about.
At the Poppy and Pint, we have the privilege of accommodating for a range of events, classes, meetings, and celebrations through our function room, and occasionally downstairs in our Café Bar.
One such event, organised by Heron Café, is a singalong session for the elderly and vulnerable in the community. Hosted fortnightly, a keyboard is set up by the bar and guests sing and bop and waltz to classics from Frank Sinatra and hits from David Bowie. Having lost my grandmother to Alzheimer’s last year, seeing others suffering with the same illness dancing away, smiling and laughing with one another, brought me insurmountable amounts of joy.
“We’re there for those who need us, even if it’s just a friendly smile as we hand over a pint.”
Having the space to give these experiences to people in our community is important, and the happiness in that room every other Monday morning is priceless. While not all pubs may be able to facilitate events like this, it’s this focus on community spirit that I believe extends to all pubs – that we’re there for those who need us, even if it’s just a friendly smile as we hand over a pint.
Pubs offer an environment where neighbours and locals, people from all walks of life, can meet under one roof to share stories and forge new friendships. I have witnessed kindness and compassion in action in my pub, like when a lone elderly gentleman with pint of Preservation was welcomed by a group of women, who felt disheartened by his solitude. They decided to start regular visits to join him, so he knew that on that one day a week, he wouldn’t be alone.
Familiarity and community are two things that make pubs matter. Unlike many other hospitality venues, pubs have foundations in local history, and have grown, changed, and adapted alongside the communities they exist within. Pubs matter because they matter to the people who are tied to them – be it through generations of visits, at the weekly ballet class, the friendly conversations with staff at the bar or under the heat lamps as strangers share a lighter for a smoke. This is where the magic happens – and that magic matters now more than ever.
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