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Going to the pub will be a very different experience when the coronavirus lockdown ends, says Clive Watson, executive chairman of The City Pub Group PLC (LON:CPC).

But it will be ‘a better one that people are having at the moment’, he adds.

Watson says the AIM-listed group will start to bring staff back from furlough in two weeks to prepare for a 4 July re-start.

That is the date the government has indicated, though yesterday Boris Johnson hinted it might be earlier and Watson says he wants to make sure its pubs are ‘match-fit’ when the green light is given.

He also expects a surge of business when the pubs are open again.

“There is a huge demand from people who just want to go to beer gardens and enjoy themselves,” he told Proactive.

Reports from Germany have been of places going ‘bonkers’ when they have re-opened, he says, and while he hopes it will be more controlled in the UK, he expects a similar response.

“In the first three months especially, customers will just want to go to the pub, have a decent pint and some traditional pub food.

“All the fastidiousness abut gastro food and craft ale will go out of the window and as long as it is a safe environment, a decent pint and a decent bite to eat, all the boxes will be ticked.”

That is what City Pub has been working on while its outlets have been closed, he says – how to make it as safe as possible for staff and customers.

The group is fortunate, he adds, that 40 of its 47 pubs have ‘good beer gardens’ as it these outlets that expected to be allowed to open first when restrictions are eased.

Watson says it is spending around £20,000 per pub getting them ready.

This includes cleaning, changing layouts, installing screens where pubs are large to have inside covers, temporary outside bars, re-stocking beer and wages upfront.

Staff will have facemasks, surgical gloves, while there will be sanitisers on tables and collections points for beer and food.

Drinks will be served in plastics containers and food in recyclable boxes with wooden knives and forks.

Watson says a lot of effort has also gone into developing its new app, that will enable food, and drinks to be pre-ordered and tables booked.

The app will help social distancing and speed up the rotation of customers.

City Pub has already trialled sales of beer and snacks in 4-5 pubs opposite public spaces and it has worked well says Watson.

Customers have understood how and in what way to queue up and staff know how to interact.

Product lines and menus have also been simplified, he says, adding that in some ways, the lockdown has been a way to reset the business.

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