Sunday, July 26, 2020

Embracing the 'new normal'

Hello again everyone! It's safe to say it's been a while and it has been, and continues to be, strange times to live in. It's been about 4 months since the country, and indeed the world, was turned upside down as we battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst the battle is not yet won, steps are being taken to ensure that the country begins to return to some form of recognisable life. With the vast majority of pubs now welcoming back customers and some shortly to begin doing so, it made sense to look into how things will be changed and what measures have been introduced to protect both staff and customers. This made for a very different style of pub trip and, by extension, a very different sort of blog entry. It will still be about the pubs and the beers of course but much of this entry will focus on the ways in which each venue is ensuring that beer and pubs can be enjoyed safely.
What follows is the experience of visiting a few different pubs over the course of a week, all of them in and around Nottingham city centre, to see what we can expect from this so-called 'new normal' and what it means for the pubgoing experience as a whole. Come with me, if you will!

Two weeks ago, and a week since the official reopening date for pubs, Amy and I had made a plan to spend our Sunday visiting a few pubs in the city. With pubs now operating strictly on table service and booking strongly advised, we had booked slots at a number of different venues and planned out our day accordingly. We decided to head into town about an hour in advance of our first booking to see if we could get a walk-in table and compare that with the experience of booking ahead. The location we chose for our walk-in experience was The Bell Inn.
The exterior of the Bell Inn - Picture of The Bell Inn, Nottingham ...

Dating from around 1437, The Bell is one of a trio of pubs in relatively close proximity that claim to be the oldest in the city, along with Ye Olde Salutation Inn and Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (about which more will be said later). Sometime before 1271 Nottingham Whitefriars established a friary on what is now Friar Lane with lands that included a guesthouse on the site of what is now the Bell Inn. The building was constructed as a refectory for the monks of the monastery on Beastmarket Hill; according to dendrochronological dating of timbers, it was built around 1420. It became a secular alehouse in 1539, following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, taking its name from the Angelus bell that hung outside.
The earliest known written reference to the property dates from 1638, when on the death of Robert Sherwin, a former Lord Mayor and Sheriff of Nottingham, his rights to half the rental income of the Inn were bequeathed to several churches for them to distribute to the poor of Nottingham.
John White bequeathed the freehold of the Inn to his wife Mary in 1732 and two years later she sold it to a wealthy local banker, Abel Smith. The freehold subsequently passed down the Smith family line to the politician and banker Abel Smith, in 1756, and then to Robert Smith, 1st Baron Carrington, in 1782. Jane Lart purchased the freehold from Lord Carrington in 1803 and the leasehold from the Church in 1806 combining the two legally. Under the terms of the lease she also undertook extensive repairs of the building and constructed a Georgian frontage that allowed for the preservation of the rare crown post structure to this day.
The cricketer William Clarke gave up his bricklaying job to become landlord of the Inn in 1812 before going on to marry the landlady of the Trent Bridge Inn where he established the famous Trent Bridge cricket ground.
Rioters protesting against the Reform Act gathered at the Inn on Goose Fair night 1831 and smashed the windows before going on to burn down many of the city's prominent buildings, including Nottingham Castle and Colwick Hall. Tory politician John Walters established his campaign headquarters at the Inn for the 1841 British general election and had to take refuge here when he was set upon by an angry mob in the Square.
The Charity Commission sold the Inn in 1888 to A.W. Hickling for £7,210 (equivalent to £809,070 in 2019), and it subsequently became a tied house to a brewery for the first time in its history.
Joseph Jackson bought the Inn on 21 October 1898 for £12,500 (equivalent to £1,402,680 in 2019). 
Mary Jackson succeeded her husband as proprietor in 1913 and established the famous two course Market Dinners of Stilton cheese, beef and vegetables, and a pint of Nottingham ale for one shilling. Following her death a quirk in her will meant the Inn had to go for sale by public auction.
The Inn was purchased for £26,000 (equivalent to £1,578,070 in 2019), by her youngest son Robert who in 1928 converted the stable courtyard at the rear of the premises into the cafĂ© bar style Snack Bar which included a large cabinet radio gramophone and catered to the workers building the new Nottingham Council House nearby.
Robert's widow Dorothy continued the business following his death in 1934 and was joined by their son David in 1953. Extensive renovations opened up the family's first floor accommodation to public use as the clubroom (now The Belfry Restaurant).
In 1957 the Jacksons established the Presentation of the President's Tankard ceremony which takes place on the first Wednesday in November and sees the President of the University of Nottingham Students' Union receive an engraved silver tankard and a public banquet of two roasted pigs with stuffing, bread, and apple sauce. A plaque engraved with a list of all the Presidents since is on display in the snack bar
In 1982 the Inn became a Grade II listed building.
Dorothy died in 1984 and David continued running the business with his two sons Paul and Richard. Another period of renovation concluded with the extension of the Snack Bar in 1991.
The Jackson family celebrated 100 years of ownership in 1998 and the Inn was featured along with its rivals Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem Inn and Ye Olde Salutation Inn in an episode of the Channel 4 TV series History Hunters which used records, building architecture and timbers, and local legends to decide which was truly the oldest. Of the 3, it was determined that, whilst the Salutation was the oldest building, the Bell was the oldest pub. The Inn was sold to Hardys & Hansons in 2002, which was in turn sold to Greene King in 2006.
Entrance to the bars is via the central passageway, that used to lead to the stables where the Snack Bar now stands, which retains its original flagstones. To the right of the entranceway are the leprosy windows where customers supposedly had their fingers counted before being allowed to enter.
The original bars known as The Long Room (a.k.a. The Tudor Bar) and The Elizabethan Bar (a.k.a. Lizzies Bar) date back to 1437 and the original timber crown-posts and cross beams have been preserved. The Tudor Bar also features a piece of the original wallpaper amongst other historical artifacts on display. Lizzies Bar is dominated by a large stained glass window and restoration work in 2002 uncovered the original wooden floor showing evidence of where the bar was once located.
The Snack Bar was an outdoor courtyard with two wells used for brewing that was converted to its current form by Robert Jackson in 1928 and extended by his son and grandson in 1991 to include a stage for live music performances.
The original living quarters, with a bedroom and bathroom featuring two front-facing windows overlooking the Old Market Square, were opened to the public as the Clubroom by the Jackson family in 1953. The oak panelled low-beamed room which features an original fireplace now houses the former The Belfry restaurant, which itself was recently converted into a gin bar. The Crown Post Room is an extension to The Belfry that is used for private functions and features the unusual crown post roof supports. The cellars are located in natural and hand carved caves in the sandstone beneath what is now the Snack Bar and adjacent buildings. Dating back to the Norman dynasty they were excavated by the Carmelite friars and contain two wells (including the Monks Well), the site of the original kitchen where Mary Jackson prepared her Market Dinners and a well preserved bonded warehouse once used by a neighbouring wine merchant. The Cellars are opened to the public on regular guided tours but these have ceased due to the current restrictions.
Upon arrival at The Bell, the first noticeable change is the introduction of a one way entry and exit system. The entrance corridor is now only used a way out with entry through a fire door into the Tudor Bar. As we haven't booked, we ask if there is room for the 2 of us to have a drink. The pub has just opened so there is plenty of room. Before we are allowed to enter, we are required to register our details. To do this, we text a unique venue number along with a name and the number of people in our party. This number is displayed on wall poster next to the station where customers are greeted. The more technically minded may choose to scan the accompanying QR code which opens a message link to a mobile number to which the same details are sent via text. Details given, we are escorted through to the main bar area where we are offered a seat on the raised section to the rear. Each table has a triangular card placed upon it, confirming that it has been cleaned, sanitised and is ready for use. As we take our seats and soak in the atmosphere of being back in a pub for the first time in months, we notice other changes that have been made. Plastic screens have been installed on the bar top to form a barrier between staff and customers. Floor markers have been placed at specific areas informing people that standing at the bar is not allowed, except for one spot near a till which can be used by customers who wish to pay on their way out, by card or contactless payment if possible. The rear set of male toilets have been cordoned off and are now only accessible by staff. 
Before too long, a member of staff comes over to take our order. We have been presented with disposable, single-use menus as we sit down so have had time to peruse the options. The beer choice here is still good, with 2 banks of 5 handpulls. These are doubled up and offer a mix of Greene King core beers as well as guests. Our options are Abbot Ale, Greene King IPA, Nottingham Robin Hood, Nottingham EPA and Old Speckled Hen. I chose the Nottingham EPA as you can certainly do a lot worse than that for your first beer back in a pub! Amy chose Aspalls Cyder, a favourite of hers and, in the matter of a couple of minutes, our drinks are delivered directly to our table. We chose to open a tab so that we could pay as we left but it is also possible to pay as you go and Greene King also have a mobile app which allows drinks and food to be ordered and paid for instantly. What about the beer, I hear you ask? I've always rather enjoyed Nottingham EPA and this pint reminds me exactly why that is. At 4.2%, it is a hoppy and fruity golden ale with a hint of sweetness and a long-lasting bitter finish. So far, so very good! 
We enjoyed our drinks here and it felt good to be back in a pub. I think it's safe to say that we all took them for granted until we were unable to use them! After finishing our pints, we made our leave, paying as we did so and made a quick stop for the toilets. Things have changed here too. Greene King toilets are operating on a 'one in, one out' policy with wall -mounted 'traffic light' wheels mounted on either the doors or near the toilet entrance. The principle behind these is that customers use their elbows to switch the wheel from green to red upon entry to show that the toilets are occupied and then switch them back again when they leave, signifying that they are now free to use. The obvious problem with this system became apparent fairly swiftly when I swapped the wheel to red and made my way downstairs only to have to squeeze past another customer on his way out who had either forgotten to use the wheel or was unaware of the system. Still, it's a learning curve for everyone at the moment. I wondered how the staff were feeling about being back and how they were coping with the adjustments. I also wondered about whether the pub's rumoured ghostly activity had been impacted. The ghost of a man called Robert has been seen walking through the upstairs gin bar, a space shared with the apparitions of 2 men seen at a table before vanishing. The ladies toilets are, appropriately, home to a female phantom and the ghostly image of a jester has been seen lingering near the front door. Word continues to be out as to whether these shades still lurk.
We had booked for both food and drink at our next location, a personal favourite of both of ours. We wandered towards Nottingham Castle, and then down the hill to the aforementioned Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem faces paying £23k extra in business ...

Another Grade II listed building, this legendary pub rests against Castle Rock, upon which Nottingham Castle is built and is attached to several of the city's famous caves, carved from the soft sandstone. The earliest known reference to the name "Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem" was in 1799. Before being known by its current name, it is believed that the pub was named "The Pilgrim" and references to this name date back to 1751. The current name is believed to come from the belief that pilgrims or crusaders would stop at the inn on their journey to Jerusalem. Some elements of the pub's name are misunderstood in the modern day; "Ye Olde" is properly pronounced "the old" and "trip" refers to a stop on a journey, rather than the journey itself.
Locals often use a shortened version of the name, "the Trip".
Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem is one of several pubs claiming to be the oldest in England – other pubs which claim to be the oldest include Ye Olde Salutation Inn and The Bell Inn as previously stated, and Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, north of London.
The pub claims that it was established in 1189 AD – the year that Richard the Lionheart became king and Pope Gregory VIII called for a Third Crusade to the Holy Land; however, there is no documentation to verify this date. Evidence suggests that caves in the rock against which the pub is built were used as a brewhouse for Nottingham Castle, and may date from around the time the castle was built in 1067.
The oldest parts of the current building were likely constructed between 1650 and 1660, though a map by John Speed shows a previous building in existence in 1610. By 1751 the building was being used as an inn with the name The Pilgrim, and was shortly after that date purchased by William Standford. The first record of the use of the name Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem dates from 1799.
There was a slightly different way of doing things here, in comparison with The Bell.Upon arrival, we were greeted in the external courtyard area between the pubs main entrance and the outside seating area. We were then shown to our table which itself was in the outside seating area. A few other customers were already present and all sitting outside. The configuration of the inside of the pub, with its many tiny rooms meant that very few inside tables could be used whilst social distancing guidelines are in effect. This means the 4 small downstairs rooms and the upstairs bar space remained empty during our visit but can be used for small groups if required. We were once again issued with disposable menus to look through and I enquired as to the beers available. 5 of the pub's 8 handpulls were in use, offering Abbot Ale, Greene King IPA, Nottingham EPA, Welbeck Abbey Cavendish and Welbeck Abbey Portland Black. I went for the Cavendish and Amy once again went for Aspalls. We again set up a tab here as it made sense seeing as we were also eating here. We had a 2 hour slot booked here which meant we could see out the whole two hours or leave before our time expired and free up the table for somebody else if need be. As I had booked us in using the Greene King mobile app, we were not required to provide any further track and trace details. The Cavendish (5%) was certainly in good condition, golden in colour with a smooth, hoppy and malt mouthfeel and a lingering, hoppy, bitter finish. The food was wonderful too. Amy had fish and chips which looked perfect with light, fluffy batter, well-cooked crunchy chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce. I ordered the steak and ale pie which ended up being enormous and was served with more of the delicious chips, crunchy seasonal veg and real ale gravy. It certainly required a couple more beers to wash it down after that! The toilet trip was interesting here too. Even though the pub's toilets are located externally in an adjoining courtyard, there is a one way system in place to access them. Customers must enter the main door, loop around the bar and exit into the courtyard where the toilets are. Social distancing queue markers are in place to prevent queues bunching together. Here, I experienced the other issue with the toilet traffic light wheels. The one on the gents door here had been left on red which resulted in me queuing outside for a few minutes before I was certain nobody was in there. I rectified the issue on my way out. It was a slightly surreal experience seeing one of Nottingham's most historic and most visited pubs being so empty on a Sunday afternoon but, having spoken to our server, I was reassured that trade has been good since reopening and people seem to like being able to utilise the pub' extensive outside space. Whether people still here the ghostly screaming of Queen Isabella as her lover Roger Mortimer was dragged away or whether Mortimer himself is still heard pacing his cell within the caves despite his 1330 execution remains to be seen. In addition to this, beer gas lines have been known to mysteriously turn off of their own accord, strange noises and disembodied voices are heard and the pub's infamous 'cursed galleon', believed to result in the deaths of anyone who attempts to clean it, still remains in situ on the upstairs bar, thankfully well out of reach.

Our next location was something very different again and also somewhere that has yet to feature in these entries. Making our way into the city centre, we took a slow walk over to the Hockley area where we were we booked in at Six Barrel Drafthouse. 
Six Barrel Drafthouse, Nottingham • whatpub.com
The first of two pubs in the Six Barrel chain to be found in the city centre, the Hockley venue occupies a building that was formerly the Lord Nelson before becoming Image Bar. After many years of closure, the building was converted into its current incarnation, operated by Pub People Company and managed by a friend of mine. The Lord Nelson was a John Smiths tied pub and was licensed under A. Richardson in 1874. It used to contain a window that allowed the old well to be viewed but this is no longer visible to the public. Inside, there is bare wood flooring and the cave cellars include both a meat cellar and a barrel thrall. Decor is modern with pump clips and beer labels covering the ceiling in one area. There is a Star Wars mural in the gents toilet cubicle. The front windows face out onto the busy Hockley thoroughfare. As mentioned, we had also booked our visit here so were not required to provide further information upon entry. We were greeted and shown to our table, which we had been able to request on the online booking form through use of an attached table plan. The layout here also makes use of an extra door, with entry being through the main entrance and exit through a fire door that opens onto the street. A one way system and directional arrows prevent confusion. Glass partitions have been placed on the bar and a smaller one has been placed between 2 high tables to ensure social distancing. Once again, table service is the order of the day. On the day of our visit, 5 of the pub's 6 handpulls were occupied, with a choice of Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Black Sheep Best Bitter, Black Iris Snake Eyes, St. Austell Tribute and Lenton Lane Atlas Stout. Amy switched to lager here, favouring Hop House 13. After a moment's deliberation, I opted for Snake Eyes (3.8%), a golden-coloured ale with an intense, hoppy aroma and taste and a lingering, bitter finish. It was kept in excellent condition, that's for sure! We stayed here for a while, torn between conversation and the view outside. Another positive aspect from the day up to this point was the amount of cleaning that we witnessed. Everything was being cleaned properly and promptly and staff were constantly on hand to clean tables as soon as they became free. It's really good to see that the new guidelines are being taken so seriously. We had a 2 hour slot booked here but as it wasn't too busy, we were able to slightly overstay that in order to kill time before our final pub of the day.

We had also booked a table at our final destination, another Greene King pub and my personal favourite pub in Nottingham. After a few minutes walk to the other side of town, we arrived at the Tap & Tumbler.
Tap & Tumbler (Nottingham) - 2020 All You Need to Know Before You ...
Formerly the Rutland Arms and later a Greenall's tied house, the pub became the Tap & Tumbler in the 1980s. A heavily rock and metal focused pub, it not long ago underwent a renovation to improve some of the facilities. Inside, high tables line the wall opposite the bar with booths located to the back of the room, near the jukebox and games machines. To the other side of the rear space is the pool table with the small, external smoking area in a small courtyard between the two areas. Things are again slightly different here. A one way entry and exit system is in place with the entrance through the door closer to the Theatre Royal end of the road and the exit through the neighbouring door further along. A screen has been placed along the bar top and it's clear that each member of staff has a specific job. Having booked already, we were greeted by a member of staff and again no further information was required. A second member of staff seated us at one of the high tables, in close proximity to the gents toilets. A one way system was also in place for the toilets, requiring people to do a loop of the pub through the pool room and smoking area to return to the seats. I was allowed to cheat a bit as I was sat almost next to the door to the gents. One member of staff was serving behind the bar with another on hand clean tables and toilets as often as possible. Ordering via the app was encouraged here and this we did, ordering Strongbow and Abbot Ale respectively. The Abbot Ale was excellent. They certainly know how to keep it here which is just as well as the options were Abbot and Greene King IPA from the pub's 6 handpulls. Being back at the Tap under the new regulations was unusual but still a pleasant experience. The jukebox was on but much quieter than usual, the staff were enthusiastic and pleased to see us and all staff were committed to wearing appropriate PPE in the form of both face masks and face shields as well as gloves. This is something else that we'd seen throughout the day and it's good to see that these measures are being applied. It's not even off-putting to be brought your beer by someone in a face covering. If anything it's comforting, as it shows that staff are seriousness about safety, be it theirs or a customer's. The Tap was certainly a roaring success and before long our slot was over and it was time to go home.

A few days later, prior to a soft open at one of the other pubs that I'm associated with in preparation for reopening, I found myself at a loose end prior to meeting Paul for a drink before the evening event. Having been working all day getting my own pub ready to reopen, I was pleased to see that the pub opposite had reopened it's doors. Intrigued to see what changes they had made, I made a decision to pop over and have a look. All in the name of research of course! The pub in question is The Castle.  Castle, Nottingham • whatpub.com
The Castle is a Grade II listed building, part of the same listing as Fothergills, that sits in the shadow of its namesake landmark. It is a traditional pub with a single L-shaped room that is divided into a number of smaller drinking areas. It was refurbished in February 2020 and features high bench seating, booths by the main door and a raised area to the rear. It also benefits from a good sized outside area to the side. Upon entering, I helped myself to some hand sanitiser and was greeted by a member of staff in a face shield who directed me to find a seat. I did so at a small, low table where I was handed a paper menu that both food and drink products. The menu also featured a QR code which I was instructed to scan. Doing so allowed me to register and provide details and also to access a payment system where I could order and pay for my drink. I was pleased to see that real ale was available from 2 of the 4 handpulls, offering a choice of Castle Rock Harvest Pale and Timothy Taylor Landlord. I chose the Landlord, paid  through my phone and a noise like a car horn came from somewhere behind the bar. This, it turned out, was a ticket printer synced up to the app to allow mobile ordering. Promptly, my beer was delivered and very delicious it was too! I had to have a second one in order to get the hang of the ordering system. Here, all of the staff were wearing face shields, a partition had been placed on the bar and a short one way system directed customers to the toilets. Cleaning was prevalent throughout my visit, something which we can all expect to see done more visibly going forward. Having finished my second beer, it was time for me to head off to meet Paul.
In organisation our meet up, Paul and I decided that the location for this should be somewhere that was on the way to our ultimate destination and so, with it being on the same road we would be staying on, we selected the Lincolnshire Poacher.
Lincolnshire Poacher, Nottingham: Central • whatpub.com
Located on Mansfield Road and Good Beer Guide listed, the pub was originally an 1830s beerhouse called the Old Grey Nag's Head, a name that can still be seen on some of the windows. Formerly a Shipstone's house, in 1989 the premises next door was acquired and the pub was expanded and reopened under the current name. Owned by Castle Rock, the Poacher was Nottingham CAMRA's LocAle Pub of the Year in 2015 and has been twinned with Amsterdam's In de Wildman bar for over 30 years. The pub comprises a main bar area, a comfy snug with button leather seating and wood panels and a corridor that leads to a light and airy conservatory which itself leads to an outside area with bespoke wooden beach huts and other seating. Paul and I hadn't booked when we arrived at the Poacher on the grounds that the website told us we didn't have to. Thankfully, it was correct! We were greeted upon entry, Paul provided the requisite details and we were escorted around a one way system, through the conservatory and garden and back into the pub where we seated at a scrubbed wooden table with banquette seating on one side and chairs to the other. A laminated menu was provided which also boasted a QR code which allowed customers to register with an account and order and pay for drinks. The guest beers were also included on this option, which I was pleased to see matched the beer list on the wall. Of the pub's 13 handpulls, just the 5 were in use, largely in order to prevent wastage whilst trade is slower. The 5 available choices were certainly varied, namely Castle Rock Harvest Pale, Shipstone's Original Bitter, Newby Wyke Banquo, Shiny Disco Balls and Wild Card Donut Stout. I've had the Disco Balls before so knew that it would be a good choice and I was correct. At 5..3%, this is an American style IPA with big citrus flavours and aroma. It was far too drinkable so we soon ordered more! The layout of the Poacher meant that access to the toilets involved walking around the bar and then looping all the way back through the one way system to return to the table but that still made it easier than going to the toilets in Wetherspoons. Staff here were also wearing gloves and jumping in to clean at every opportunity. A free standing perspex divider had been positioned between 2 tables that would otherwise have been too close together. The atmosphere relaxed and the service was quick and efficient. No complaints so far!

A week on from our initial foray back into pubs, Amy and I once again ventured out, this time to another of our favourite pubs, this one a bit closer to home. Having booked in advance with the intention of eating and drinking, we hopped on the tram and made our way to Wilford to visit the Ferry Inn.
Ferry Inn, Nottingham • whatpub.com
Originally a farmhouse on the south bank of the Trent, it was previously linked to the Meadows by a foot ferry (hence the pub's name). The ferry ceased operation in 1864 and was then replaced by a toll bridge in 1870. Becoming the Wilford Coffee House in the 18th century it was later a pub known as the Punch Bowl before becoming the Ferry House in 1860. Parts of the building date from the 14th century, it is Grade II listed and it was listed as an Asset of Community Value on 10th March 2016. It's seen a lot of history in its time. Some of it has also been unseen as a pesky poltergeist made its home here in the 1980s when it delighted in smashing glasses and being a nuisance until it was dutifully exorcised. Part of the Chef and Brewer branch of Greene King, The Ferry Inn is renowned for its excellent food. We've eaten here many times previously and never been disappointed. Upon arrival, a series of social distancing markers led us to the entrance to the restaurant area where a male staff member in a face shield confirmed our booking and guided us to our table in the rear of the restaurant. What was immediately noticeable was that certain tables had been taken out of use and were designated as such, due to the need for parties to be a specific distance apart. Once again, a disposable menu was brought to us. On this occasion, we opted to order drinks through the Greene King app and our food face-to-face with our server. In terms of beer choice, 2 of the 4 handpulls were in use, with a choice between Greene King IPA and Abbot Ale. Abbot was the option for me and Aspalls for Amy. Once again, we were both very impressed by the speed of the service and the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff. The beer was also very good. I've never had a bad pint of beer in The Ferry and that still holds true. Food-wise, we polished off a steak (Amy) and a mixed grill (me) before we sat back feeling very full and nursing our pints. I made a mistake with the toilets and forgot to turn the red back to green when I was done. If anything, that just prove that it's a work in progress and very easily done. Training people to break their habits will undoubtedly be the hardest part of this return to faux normality.

So, all in all, what's the verdict on the new way of doing things? How does this extra cautious, more regulated new normal compare to the pub culture that we're all so familiar with? In all honesty, I think I prefer it. Not only are we back to focusing on the little things in order to get the big things right, but it forces people to provide the customer service that they should have been providing from the start. You're much more likely to get a seat, there's no shuffling through people to get to the bar, no frustrating queues to get served, no worrying about people queue jumping. There will also be a necessary decrease in the kind of binge drinking and lad/ladette culture that has tarred everyone with the same brush over the years. People will have to behave and their group sizes will be significantly smaller and more manageable. The atmosphere of the new normal, despite the events that brought us to it, is much more relaxed and can be better controlled. Everybody knows the rules and is by and large going to stick by them. Finally then, some advice for those of you yet to return to the pubs or who are preparing to do just that. Please lower your expectations. Things won't be the same as you remember so don't feel hard done by if you think things were better before. Book a table in advance. It guarantees you a seat, it's easy and it's quick. Be kind. Staff are just as new to this as you are so please don't give them attitude if you think they're not going fast enough or they've made a mistake. Respect our pubs. We all missed them so let's look after them and they'll look after you. And lastly, perhaps most importantly, please be patient. It's nobody's fault that this happened. We're all adjusting. Let's adjust together and make sure we're all having a best a time as we can under the circumstances. Abide by the rules, keep calm and wash your hands. Is this the way forward? Can we live with a European style cafe culture and Americanised, customer centric service? Based on what I've seen so far, there's only one answer. Yes. Absolutely. 

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