Photos taken this weekend in London pubs, by Jake Lewis.
I didn’t sleep at all the night before my shift because I dreaded it so much. But when I got to the pub at 5 p.m., things were going surprisingly well. I thought, “Okay, that’s good. The place is clean. People keep their distance. We can make it work. We had a lot of good measures in place, including reducing our capacity to 150 seats; before COVID, we could accommodate 650 people. If you didn’t have a table, you didn’t come in, so there was a large queue, which was mostly cheerful for most. I worked in the kitchen, as well as on the floor.
It all started well, but over the course of the evening it became a whole different story. One of the main problems was that there was no limit on the length of stay for people. When we asked, “Will there be a drink limit?” we were just told to use our judgment as usual. It wasn’t even necessarily worse than an average Saturday night – the reduced capacity helped – but it was still pretty chaotic. Whenever I had to leave the kitchen, I had to literally push people away, even if we had stickers on the floor telling people about social distance. We really hoped people would respect that, but they didn’t.
We also encouraged people to order using the Wetherspoons app, which allows you to get table service, but people generally ignored that and just went to the bar as usual. When customers arrived, we gave them test and follow-up forms to fill out, but there was nothing stopping anyone from writing, “What’s your name? Micky the mouse. When are you leaving? When I want.’ When I looked at the forms, I saw that people had mostly written stuff like that.
People absolutely did not respect the “no cry” rule. How could you even apply this? Are we supposed to suffocate them? It’s a pub – everyone yells at their friends. In general, it felt like customers were trying to follow the rules for the first few hours, but as they stayed and got drunk, everything got worse.
Within moments, things got really messy. There was a bad incident where a pretty drunk guy fell and got injured. This caused tremendous commotion, and half of the pub rose from their tables and huddled around our manager. They were trying to help, to be fair, but it was the last thing we wanted. People were gathering dangerously close and I was trying to get them back to their seats so we could call an ambulance and let the bouncers fix the problem.
It was pretty scary, actually, because I felt like an ant compared to everyone else, with my fragile paper mask. Crowd control becomes so difficult when there are so many people. When people are drunk, they don’t realize how noisy they are, they don’t follow instructions, sometimes they don’t realize how much they spray you with sputum when they talk. It was intimidating and stressful – we just shouldn’t be in this position at all.
Throughout the evening, I was very aware of my own health and worried about my colleagues. In the kitchen, we were provided with face masks and hand sanitizer everywhere, which is good. But every time I went out on the floor, nobody wore a mask. You just have to believe that customers are washing their hands. You have no idea who has COVID and who doesn’t. I was terrified. I’m always. I had to be very close to people when I didn’t want to. It’s stressful, because I managed to become a team leader in the kitchen and I want to take care of myself and everyone else at work, but I know that we are in danger, despite almost all measures that you might think of being set up. You are still worried about catching COVID.
But absolutely, 100% do not blame customers for all of this. This would not happen if the government had not opened the pubs so early and was so rash, running advertisements saying “Go have a drink!” Raise a glass! Going to the pub was intended as a patriotic duty. People will see this message from the government and follow it. Even if I obviously wish that the customers were a little more careful, I can only blame them.
If you feel guilty about coming to the pub, know that none of us at the Wetherspoons union wants to boycott. Our hours are already at a bare minimum because the company has not made any money. If the trade is significantly reduced, I will have my hours reduced, with everyone. I will lose income and I will not be able to pay my rent. The boycott is not helping workers right now, it just suits your own story. If you really want to support us and help us reasonably, come in, wash your hands, don’t be a dick, wear a mask and be respectful.
We just want to do our job without being infected, without feeling stressed. I shouldn’t have to console one of my co-workers who sobs on the stairs in the middle of the shift. It shouldn’t happen. But now is not the time to stay away. Even though last night was chaotic and stressful, we still took less time than usual. It was nowhere near as profitable as an ordinary Saturday night, which is not sustainable. Ultimately, businesses will have to make decisions and people will lose their jobs. The crisis is just beginning.
The fact that the pubs opened so early and we are placed as cannon fodder is horrible. I did not speak to a single colleague who was happy to be there. We have gone from leave to normal course change, and the risk is not gone. She is still there.
See more photos from the weekend below.