Public Houses

I’m sad, this Foodie Friday. If you’ve hung around the screed for a while, you know that Friday used to be the day when I’d traipse down to my local and quaff an adult beverage or two to celebrate the end of the week. I’ve written about the place before, and while I still patronize it via takeout food, sitting at the bar with the other regulars is not an option for the foreseeable future. Thanks, COVID.

You are probably aware that pubs take their name from the public houses that first appeared in the late 17th century, and was used to differentiate private houses from those which were, quite literally, open to the public as ‘alehouses’, ‘taverns’, and ‘inns’. Much earlier, the Romans established tabernae in Britain, alehouses along their network of roads. Yes, that’s where the word “tavern” comes from.

Here’s the thing. Those alehouses weren’t just places where people went to get drunk. They were meeting places where people could socially congregate, share gossip, and arrange mutual help within their communities. Until last March, that’s exactly the role that my local served as well.

Now before you ask me if I’ve ever heard of Facebook or Next Door, hear me out. I want to make a point that applies to the business world as well. Ask yourself if your social media interactions with your friends and family are as satisfying as Facetiming or Zooming. Probably not. Then ask yourself if those video-based interactions are as good as sitting in the same room or on the next bar stool with a friend. I highly doubt it.

What’s been lost during this pandemic, an economic crisis that has decimated the restaurant industry, is not just jobs. It’s our ability to do what pubs, and by extension, restaurants, were in part created to do: socially congregate, meet new people, have a laugh or a cry with a friend who you can hug. Every business has suffered that loss to a certain extent. Whether it’s customers, suppliers, or staff, I’m pretty sure none of them are coming to an in-person holiday party this year (at least I hope not).

So the real question isn’t how will the bars and restaurants that survive this get back to that happy in-person social place once this is over. The real question is how will your business?

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud

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