MICHAEL WOLSEY: A pint and a pizza from the place next door
I recently went with some friends for a drink and a bite to eat in a small village pub.
I don’t think it normally serves food. I’m not sure it even has a kitchen. But it had no trouble complying with the law because the village, like just about every little place in Ireland, has a Chinese takeaway and a takeaway pizza restaurant.
This particular village also has a Centra that serves ready-meals (including sushi – now there’s posh!) in plastic containers.
It was a pleasant evening – a rare event of late – so we sat at a table outside, where the waiter handed us menus for all three establishments. He brought our orders to the takeaways and their staff delivered the food to our table. The price (nothing less than €9, I swear) was added to our final bill from the pub which, I presume, has its own arrangements for paying. Food was being delivered this way to punters inside the pub as well as us outdoor types.
I’m not sure if all this was in strict accordance with the letter of the law but it certainly met the spirit of it and I can’t understand why the system isn’t adopted by more of the small pubs that are complaining about being locked down.
I know there are a few back-of-beyond pubs, like the San José bar in the Guinness ad, that don’t have a food place near them, but many of those that are now shut could easily place their orders with the shop or café up the road, boosting local trade as well as their own business.
Any of the so-called wet bars in Dublin could do the same – most have a wide variety of menus on their doorsteps.
Maybe some pubs think the financial return from this sort of arrangement would not justify the trouble of organising and operating it. Maybe their customers would not be prepared to pay a €9 food surcharge for the pleasure of supping a couple of pints. Or maybe I’m missing something . But it seems to me that, with a little bit of initiative, a good few of the bars now closed would be able to open their doors and enjoy at least a limited trade.
I have never really thought of the pub as a place to eat and, before Covid, I would have regarded the idea of booking a table at one as odd. But, I have to admit, it works well and is an idea that might be worth preserving when this crisis is over.
I’m not suggesting pubs should keep their entire premises functioning by appointment only. The bar itself and the floor space could operate as usual but it would be nice to be able to reserve a quiet, comfortable table to meet with a few friends or family, even if no food was involved.
There are some other lessons that might be learned from this phase of partial restriction.
Like nearly all Irish men I have never, until recently, made an appointment with a hairdresser, or a barber as I would quaintly say. I have to admit, it works very well. I arrive and there is someone either waiting to cut my hair or ready to do so in a few minutes. It beats the hit-and-miss arrangements which would leave me, with hardly a hair to cut, waiting while someone with more locks than sense got styled in a cross between Jedward and the guys out of The Young Offenders.
Booking swimming slots at my local gym also cuts out a lot of hassle and I like the new degree of order that has come to supermarkets where checkout queues are being controlled and most people are paying quickly by card, instead of searching through purses and wallet and counting up loose change.
And although I don’t like wearing a mask, I like the idea that people are prepared to wear them, not for their own good but to protect others.
In many Asian countries, wearing a mask is a common act of courtesy extended by anyone who has a cold or some such infection. That’s an idea we would do well to copy.