Social distancing depicted by wooden blocks

How to host a socially distanced event in your pub

If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s how much we value the company of other people. Pubs are now in the very fortunate (if precarious) position of being able to offer people a space within which they can actually lead a semblance of a normal social life, beyond the various social gathering rules across the UK. So, creating events, such as live music gigs and performances, which give people a chance to get together safely, have a drink and enjoy a bit of culture, is something a great many pub landlords are very keen to do.

Stay on top of the rules

‘Organise an event?’ some of you will, no doubt, be thinking. ‘It’s hard enough even knowing when I’m allowed to open and who I’m allowed to let in!’

Very true. So, rather than lay out the ever-changing rules here, we’re going to direct you to the Government web page on ‘Meeting with others safely (social distancing)’, which is regularly updated and will allow you to keep tabs on how many people you’re going to be able to actually invite into your pub.

That should give you a bit of a guide as to what might be possible.

What kind of events can I host?

Putting on a safe, socially distanced event isn’t so much about the style of event as it’s about the way in which it’s run. So, you should feel free to explore all the various options, including:

  • Seasonal events – Guy Fawkes Night firework display, Christmas Market, Christmas dinner, New Year’s Eve party, Valentine’s dinner, etc.
  • Live music events – e.g. touring bands, local bands, DJs, solo performers, open mic nights, battle of the bands, folk nights, etc.
  • Comedy events – touring comedians, local comedians, comedy nights (with multiple acts), open mic nights, etc.
  • Quiz nights
  • Sporting events – mini golf, five-a-side, rounders, volleyball, etc.
  • Speed dating events
  • Games nights – board games, video games, card games (so long as there’s no real gambling), etc.
  • Special events – birthday parties, prom night after-parties, live gig after-parties, parent-and-baby mornings/afternoons, bake-offs, etc.
  • Creative events – pizza making classes, bakery classes, drawing classes, etc.

You’ll instinctively know which ones feel like viable options and which just won’t work for your pub right now. This will, of course, also depend on the type of deal you have with your pub company and what’s allowed within the parameters of that deal.

Make the most of your outdoor space

Some pubs in the UK are having to deal with early indoor closing, meaning the times at which an event might normally occur (i.e. the evening) are out-of-bounds right now. Well, if you have some outdoor space at your pub, now’s the time to think about using it.

If the weather is bad, you don’t want to be running electrical currents out there, so putting on a live music event out there might be out of the question. But there’s Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas all coming up, so start thinking about how you can use that outdoor space to safely allow people to celebrate.

If you have a car park, think about limiting the number of parking spaces within it and repurposing some of them as event spaces. If you have a beer garden, a sporting area or a large green space, you should most certainly maximise its potential for socially distanced fun. People want to feel safe, they want to socialise and you need to make a living, so it’s about balancing all these factors in the best possible way.

Booking a socially distanced event

Collaborating with pub customers

The great thing about running a pub is, you’re never free of people coming in and asking if they can use the space to do something. Well, now’s the time to build those relationships. If a customer asks if they can put on a live music gig, a bake sale or a quiz night, talk to them, ask them what it’s all about and see how you can work with them in a way that will make it safe, fun and lucrative.

Just make sure to be clear about what will and won’t be possible and that you’ll be involved in supervising the event every step of the way to ensure that it adheres to social distancing guidelines.

The great thing about this approach is, all the promotional work is in the hands of the person booking the event, so you don’t have to do all the work yourself. Offering your promotional support, however, will be good for both the relationship with the promoter and the popularity of their event.

If you’d actively like to attract customers to book socially distanced events, use your social media to invite them to message you or come in and talk to you. You’ll be inundated with requests, believe us.

Collaborating with booking agencies

Build relationships with booking agencies, too, like The Comedy Club or Nova Music who’ll gladly sign you up to their email lists of touring artists, many of whom will be struggling to maintain a living right now and delighted that a venue is excited to host them. You’ll find countless other agencies just by Googling for them.

It’s not as wild an idea as it seems to book touring performers, either. Independent touring artists don’t always demand a high fee and will often perform for ‘the door’, i.e. whatever ticket money you’re able to take, so it’s worth talking to their agents and negotiating door deals, wherever possible, with explicit conditions regarding audience capacity so that expectations are managed and artists feel well taken care of.

Promoting a socially distanced event

You’ve probably noticed, just by scrolling through your own social media, that people are missing social gatherings a lot. Getting people into the pub to attend an event, therefore, is not going to be difficult. It will be as much about managing their attendance from a Health & Safety perspective as it will plugging the event itself.

Tools for promoting socially distanced events:

Social Media

The biggest tool in promoting events, today, social media will be the hub of your promotional activity. This isn’t just about plugging the event itself and saying, ‘this is happening.’ You can really leverage social media by linking to content related to your event across the internet. If, say, you’re hosting a live music gig, you might link to a Top 100 list that plugs the artist one day, an interview with them the next, then a YouTube video of them performing live the next. It’s all about maximising visibility of your event in every possible way.

Ticketing agencies

A great, free bit of publicity for your socially distanced event – whether it’s a car boot sale or a charity five-a-side match in the car park – is to list it on a ticketing website, such as WeGotTickets. Your event will appear on their listings and will show people how many tickets are available, which will help you to sell out more quickly, too. This is especially important when your numbers are already limited by social distancing guidelines.

Printed materials

Flyers are the old-fashioned way of promoting events and they can be a little bit messy if people make litter of them, so we would advise against making flyers. You’d be much better off doing things like:

  • Printing posters to put up around the pub and in local shops
  • Printing beer mats that everyone who comes in the pub will see every time they pick up their drink
  • Gazebo covers, vinyl banners, floor stickers, etc. are great for on-going, regular and repeated events to remind people that they’re happening, e.g. ‘Socially distanced car boot sale every Sunday in this car park. Book your place now – only 30 customers per hour.’

Here at Marston’s, we actually work with design teams who help our Pub Partners to lay out their promotional materials and get them printed. Anything we can do to help, really. Our Pub Partners just have to talk to their AOM or Business Managerto find out more.

Supervising a socially distanced event

This is the tricky part and, probably, the bit you’ve been waiting for. Because all the above sounds great, but how are you going to make it all work responsibly, without running the risk of spreading this horrible coronavirus?

Well, it’s great that you’re thinking that way, because taking responsibility for the safety of your event is the single most important factor in running one right now. Basically, if it’s not safe, it shouldn’t happen. Simple as that.

Here are the things you can do to maximise Health & Safety at any event you do choose to run at your pub:

Raise awareness of Health & Safety guidelines

Print posters with social distancing guidelines to dot around your events. Put clear handwashing instructions in the toilets. Make signage around hand sanitising stations clear so that people are not able to miss it upon entering. And do it in a way that feels sociable rather than scary. Here at Marston’s, we can provide layouts to our Pub Partners who request them, which feel warm and friendly whilst also making the guidelines very clear.

Have an abundance of cleaning and bathroom products in-stock

Make sure that customers never run out of soap or hand sanitiser. And make sure that whoever is in charge of cleaning the pub never runs out of bleach for the bathrooms and other necessary cleaning products. Also, take care to ensure that all bathroom products and hand sanitiser are visible and within easy reach so that everyone uses them.

Email guidelines to your staff on what’s expected of them during events

Your staff are going to be nervous for their own safety, as well as making sure your guests stay safe. So reassure them with comprehensive guidelines as to how they can best ensure that safety at an event. You’ll want to tell them things like:

  • How to communicate social distancing guidelines verbally to customers
  • How to approach customers in outsized groups (more than restrictions allow)
  • How to politely ensure customers sanitise their hands before entering
  • How to deal with customers who do not comply with guidelines
  • How to work with promoters to ensure social distancing is maintained

Maximise card payments and minimise cash payments

Talk to the people running events or operating them about investing in a card machine to take payments for goods or for entry to the event itself to minimise the risk of spreading the disease via cash-handling. These are just some of the best card machines available on the market today. Also, make clear the fact that your event is encouraging card, rather than cash, payments in your events promotions – on posters and printed materials, on social media, etc.

Take ultimate responsibility for delivering a safe, socially distanced environment yourself

Your staff are only as good as the leader that guides them. So, as the person running the pub, you should be the one to set the highest possible example for social distancing:

  • Maintain a 2-metre distance wherever possible
  • Maintain a 1-metre distance when that’s not possible
  • Always wear your mask, fully covering your nose and mouth
  • Wash and sanitise your hands regularly, especially after cash-handling or picking up used glasses and dishes
  • Communicate the rules clearly to your team and to your customers
  • Support your team when they encounter resistance to the rules
  • Be polite to customers and always explain yourself and your reason for demanding their compliance
  • Join in and have a good time in a way that sets an example for others

The whole world is hoping that 2021 is the year in which culture resumes in something like a more regular way. We hope these guidelines help you toward achieving that goal. Good luck to landlords, Pub Partners, managers, staff, customers and artists, performers and sportspeople everywhere. We’re rooting for you all.

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