Grab-and-go drinking policy slows bar sales

A bar on Ariapita Avenue, Port of Spain says customers must wear masks. The no dining policy is slowing down sales, with some bars closing down, report the Barkeepers and Operators Association. - Vidya Thurab
A bar on Ariapita Avenue, Port of Spain says customers must wear masks. The no dining policy is slowing down sales, with some bars closing down, report the Barkeepers and Operators Association. - Vidya Thurab

LOCATION, location, location.

Some bar owners who adhere to guidelines which prevent their customers from dining in believe the success of their competitors is dependant on who they know and where their business is located.

One owner, who asked not to be identified, told Sunday Newsday, "It also also depends on how bold you are. You can move smart and survive still, If you're in the right place, your bar will probably survive this madness."

"There is a bar open on the upper floor in that building," he pointed out, near to his ground-floor bar in midtown Port of Spain.

He, too, was open to customers, and more visible.

At just after lunch, two couples, were in fact, seated inside his bar with drinks in hand, although they could not be seen from outside.

He said he wanted to open his bar sooner but was prevented from doing so when all bars were ordered to shut in March. So he opened in May, shortly after restrictions were relaxed.

And, while he opened, in irony, dozens of others, according to the Barkeepers and Operators Association of TT (BOATT) have recently boarded up completely.

Interim president Teron Mohan said he, and other stakeholders in the industry, estimate that at least 43 people who work part or full-time at bars and lounges have been terminated or taken considerable pay cuts – typically with a reduction of working hours. It's proven difficult to ascertain without any official statistics.

However, in an impassioned statement on Friday, Mohan gave some insight into the impact thus far.

"On (August 17), we were granted a grab-and-go arrangement as a means to buffer the significant loss of income. However, 50 per cent of bars opted to not even bother to open doors. Those that tried couldn't sustain the operating costs, no understanding from landlords for those who are tenants, not affordable to keep staff employed and the many reasons go on. To date we now have 47 confirmed closures of bar and restaurant type businesses and the numbers will rise in the coming weeks."

The recently-established BOATT represents only a fraction of the hundreds of bars and similar businesses across the country.

Mohan wrote, "Many attempts to collaborate with government officials have all proven in vain but it seems they only respond to the threat of legal action or via the media and in doing so, BOATT will continue to utilise these channels."

The grab-and-go policy allows customers to purchase and leave. Given the nature of bars, being that they are meant to lounge, as opposed to operating like a liquor mart, this option means many are shutting down across the country.

"The landlord was understanding all the time," the owner of the new Port of Spain bar told Newsday.

"He helped me there but he said there isn't much he can do now in terms of rent. He and everybody else has to live."

Most of his customers purchase to go. A good number, however, drink on sight, posing a potential hazard to himself, the servers, and other customers. It remained unclear as to how he managed to remain open, fully, without repercussion.

Sunday Newsday visited other parts of Port of Spain and west Trinidad, such as St James and Woodbrook, where there are high concentrations of bars. The decline in the regular bustle of these areas – as bar owners in the south, central, east and in Tobago can attest – are glaring.

"I find you getting stale beers everywhere," said Simeon, a patron, who with two other friends went almost door-to-door on Thursday, drinking on foot.

They said they only skipped the bars which were closed for the night or closed altogether.

It makes sense that the beers would be stale, he suggested, if bars are unable to sell and replenish stock on a regular basis.

"They (bar owners) have to think creative," he added, saying he takes the blame for almost getting one closed down. Just the day before, Simeon said, he was seated at a bar with his back turned to the entrance when a policeman entered.

"No one is supposed to stay ... everyone is playing a sort of game if they don't move smart.

"Think ahead. Keep your drink under your hand, and if you see police, don't act suspicious. You are less likely to get attention if you have on a mask."

Some owners said many mid-size and larger bars, which police keep a sharp eye on, have suffered and will continue to suffer, along with their staff. But for some who own small operations, out of sight, with a loyal clientele, and are brave enough to open – they may weather the storm.


"Grab-and-go drinking policy slows bar sales"

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