Not just pouring pints: Experienced staff missed as Irish pubs reopen


By AGENCY

Until very recently, O'Donoghue's, a pub where the Irish folk band the Dubliners made their name, did not have a customer cross its threshold since March 2020. Photos: Niall Carson/PA Wire/dpa

It's been a long time since anyone in Ireland has been able to enjoy a pint in a pub, which were forced to stay closed as the pandemic upended public life around the entire globe.

But as pubs are now allowed to reopen, it doesn't mean the challenges are over: Ireland's pub industry now must figure out how to replace the people skills of staff who left the trade during the pandemic.

Kevin Barden, whose family owns the traditional Irish music pub O'Donoghue's, says he has been lucky to welcome back 19 of his 20-strong team after 15 months of closure, and he hopes the final one will also return in the coming months.

But many other venues have not been so fortunate, according to Barden, and are finding it hard to fill their rotas.

Until very recently, O'Donoghue's, a pub where the Irish folk band the Dubliners made their name, did not have a customer cross its threshold since March last year, when the Covid-19 emergency forced the closure of bars across Ireland.

While relaxations allowed some pubs to reopen for periods in the months since, many traditional venues in Dublin remained closed throughout.

Barden preparing for outdoor opening at O'Donoghue's in Dublin ahead of the reopening of pubs in Ireland after lockdown restrictions were eased.Barden preparing for outdoor opening at O'Donoghue's in Dublin ahead of the reopening of pubs in Ireland after lockdown restrictions were eased.

Pints of stout are now settling on O'Donoghue's bar once again. However, ongoing restrictions mean the pub's defining characteristic – live music – will have to wait until Ireland takes some further steps back to normality in the months ahead.

"We're nervous but excited," says Barden. "It's been a long 15 months being closed. Coming into the pub and no one being here is just a weird experience."

He says getting ready to reopen had been "a big joy" and "having the staff back – it's been great seeing them again".

Like so many workers across Ireland, the staff received an income through government Covid-19 wage subsidy support.

"It's been tough for them and their families and they're chomping at the bit to get back," says Barden. "We've 19 out of 20 coming back but I think we're definitely in the minority. Every pub in town seems to be looking for staff, whether it's floor staff or kitchen staff or bar staff. There's definitely been a drain on the industry."

Barden says the large number of people leaving the trade is worrying.

"It is the experience that is going to take a long time to be replaced," he says. "It's one thing just pouring a pint, but it's how you deal with people, it's that experience of bar life which is kind of irreplaceable."

General view of O'Donoghue's bar in Dublin.General view of O'Donoghue's bar in Dublin.

Three kilometres away, on the same side of the River Liffey, production of Guinness at the famous St James' Gate brewery has been ramped up by an extra five million pints a week to accommodate the pubs reopening.

Through its Raising The Bar initiative, Guinness invested €14mil (RM70mil) in 5, 000 pubs across Ireland to help them with Covid-19 safety steps, including training for almost 22, 000 staff and help in constructing more than 1, 200 outdoor spaces.

In recent weeks, Guinness quality control teams have called at 8, 000 pubs to clean more than 50, 000 beer lines.

Grainne Wafer, Guinness' global brand director, says experience of reopenings in other international markets gives her confidence that the industry in Ireland will bounce back.

"It's fantastic to be at this point," she says.

Wafer says research showing Guinness was the most talked-about beer on social media during the pandemic has also given her reason to be optimistic.

"That is an incredible feat because Guinness isn't the biggest beer brand in the world but it is the beer brand that people are most looking forward to getting back into pubs and having."

Colin Green, a commercial director at Guinness, says consumer experiences would be crucial to the success of the sector's reopening. "We know from data that people have a really high expectation of the pub or a restaurant in Ireland – they want a brilliant experience, they have missed it but they have probably set it up on a pedestal as the best experience ever," he says.

"The pubs have got to make it feel safe and friendly, the drinks have to be superb quality and the food – it's all about the consumer experience," he says. "People have craved so much of that social reconnection that pubs will play a massive part in that going forward." – dpa

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Irish pubs , staffing , pandemic

   

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