Gerry Nass, owner of the Robert Burns Hotel in Collingwood, says the rhetoric surrounding pubs with COVID-19 cases can cause long-term damage.

The past six months have been an incredibly stressful time for pub owners and operators, and while the immediate financial pressures associated with the pandemic are the main stressor, publican Gerry Nass has found that another major point of worry is emerging: the increased harmful rhetoric among public-facing media around pub operations and the part hotels play in spreading COVID-19.

“While operating under a takeaway and delivery model, I’ve been watching what’s happening in Sydney. The stressor is having some idiot walk in to your bar who is sick and then infecting everybody, and then the press jumps on it as if it’s the venue’s fault.

“The damage that causes that venue is out of proportion. Instead of just shutting down for two days, testing everybody, deep cleaning and moving on, the way that the rhetoric is conveyed, it sounds as if the venue is at fault. And there’s so much of that that goes on.”

Partly in response to this portrayal of pubs where COVID-19 cases have been confirmed, Nass sent out a press release about his own pub to media, trying to refocus the commentary on what venues like the Robert Burns Hotel are doing in the takeaway and delivery space. And while he acknowledges it’s important to report wherever COVID-19 cases have been found to ensure those outbreaks are curtailed, it’s the ongoing negative coverage of the venue itself that he finds unnecessary.

“Imagine what that does to a pub. Even a pub from a big pub group can be damaged long-term from having a case in their venue. But not even from being a fault of the premises – literally from a patron walking in to a venue and infecting people. I don’t know where that spin-off has happened.

“I recently saw an epidemiologist say ‘When it all gets back to normal, you don’t want to go running back to the pub’. Why would you say that? I hear it often, and I’m not sure why pubs, as compared to other venues,  are in the firing line when they do everything they can to follow the rules.”

At Robert Burns Hotel – while it was still allowed to trade in the premises – Nass went beyond the state government’s hygiene requirements to ensure that the venue was as safe as possible, by rostering an extra person each shift to work as a hygiene marshall – something that was not required at the time in Victoria. Doing so added expense at a time when every dollar is crucial to a venue’s survival – but that’s how seriously damaging it can be to end up with COVID-19 cases in your venue.

“It’s a totally different way to run the pub and it costs you more, but it’s become necessary. It’s quite a difficult balancing act to pull off.”

Robert Burns Hotel is currently operating a takeaway and delivery model from Wednesday to Sunday, with a reduced menu that covers all of its most popular dishes.

Vanessa Cavasinni

Vanessa Cavasinni is the managing editor of Australian Hotelier and Club Management, trade publications for the pub and club sectors respectively. Vanessa has been at the helm of Australian Hotelier since...

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