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Coronavirus: ‘Our pub is closing, and we don’t know when it will re-open’

Dartmouth Arms owner Stuart Langley explains how the coronavirus has devastated the pub trade

18 March, 2020 — By Dartmouth Arms landlord Stuart Langley

Stuart Langley in happier times, taking over the Dartmouth Arms 

THE Dartmouth Arms is closing. We don’t know exactly when, but it will likely be this week. We have no idea when we will reopen. We don’t know if we will ever reopen.

The seriousness of the situation – both in terms of public health and economic damage – seems to be sinking in. This is a disaster for our businesses, our staff, our customers, our neighbours, our community and ourselves. How could we have prepared for something like this?

There are three key reasons why the timing couldn’t be worse. First, quarterly VAT was due in early February, so businesses like ours have just paid out 20% of total peak October, November, December revenues to HMRC, emptying bank accounts. Second, peak Christmas spending is followed by off-peak spending in January and February, putting immediate pressure on the cashflows required to pay staff and suppliers. Thirdly, rental quarters are due at the end of March, so unless you have sufficient cash reserves (which most small businesses don’t) or a cracking cash cow business (which most small businesses aren’t), then keeping your business functioning into April can be a huge challenge at the best of times. For us to then lose 50% of our trade due to Coronavirus and be faced with the decision to either choose to close or wait to be told to close, is a bitter blow.

We are totally reliant on the support of government, the bank, our landlord and the patience of our suppliers. Last week we were looking at forecasts for 2021. This week we are doing the maths on surviving into next week. It couldn’t be much worse.

Dartmouth Arms

After 18 months of investment and hard work since arriving at Dartmouth Arms, we were looking forward to launching our Spring / Summer calendar of food, drink and music events; Mother’s Day, Easter Weekend, Record Store Day (huge for us last year with our Hi-Fi sound system), an eight week season of weekly supper clubs, a re-launched quiz, a couple of weddings, countless lunch and dinner parties, guest brewery tastings – and that’s even before we got to the European Football Championships in the summer. Great events, great parties, great sales. All of this is gone.

I feel for the staff. Our team have been excellent at driving Dartmouth Arms in a new direction, offering great food, drink and music in a relaxed setting and making everyone feel welcome. For the last two weeks they have been enthusiastically scrubbing and sanitising and washing and cleaning above and beyond any level of government advice and keeping spirits high. We are hoping for a package of government measures that will help the team pay their rents and keep them fed and safe in the coming weeks and months.

I also feel for our guests, old and new, who have put up with us painting the place, moving things around, changing products, changing pricing, doing all the stuff that’s needed to give Dartmouth Arms a great future. The pub is still a work in progress, but the guests keep coming, buying food, buying drinks, and helping the business grow.

Whatever happens next, our only aim is survival. Whatever we can do to ensure Dartmouth Arms reopens as soon as possible, we will do. For ourselves as much as anyone, we’ve put so much into the pub we can’t allow it to fail. Our pub is your pub and we will do our very best to get the doors open again very soon.

What’s the point of surviving a global pandemic if you can’t go to your local pub and celebrate afterwards?

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