THE NEW NORMAL Marie Mellett pictured in the beer garden of her pub in Swinford. Only 15 customers are permitted on the premises at any one time. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
The owner of Mellett’s Emporium in Swinford says her establishment ‘can’t go down without a fight’ and last week began serving drinks in the pub’s beer garden.
Marie Mellett, who recently took over the pub license from her father Joe, says she is uncertain about the viability of the new arrangements, under which a maximum of 15 patrons can be served outdoors.
As part of the Level 3 Covid-19 restrictions, indoor service in all pubs has been banned.
Marie, who is the seventh generation to take charge of the 223-year-old establishment, describes the introduction of Level 3 in Mayo as ‘a massive surprise’.
“We were under the impression that if pubs had to close that it would be on a regional basis. So while we were aware that a closure was possible, the cases in Mayo were so low that we really didn’t think it would be a full country-wide lockdown,” she told The Mayo News.
“The day we were closing we thought ‘We can’t go down without a fight’ so we’ll just try this and see how it works.”
As some have pointed out on social media recently, the unmerciful nature of Irish weather poses an acute challenge to those trying to provide an outdoor service.
“The weather is a huge problem,” Marie says. “Limiting us to 15 customers is the biggest worry. I don’t know how financially viable it would be. For us to open we’d have to have everything turned on, the cold room, the ice machine, the glass washer, fridges, the heaters in the beer garden.
“Two staff members have to be there so I don’t know how financially viable it will be. We’ll give it a go and hope that we’ll be able to continue doing it. But right now, we just don’t know.”
Having been closed for 190 days and reopened for only 15, Marie and her staff had been diligently operating their Market Street premises in line with public health guidelines.
As Marie says herself: “You were doing twice the work for half the turnover.”
“It was really hard work, the amount of walking was crazy, but it was working. We were happy with how it was going.
“[Customers] found it different but they were very compliant. Everyone wore a mask on arrival and when going to the bathroom. They all sat down and followed all the rules and had fun along the way. They were delighted to be out.”
More severe restrictions?
With Level 3 to remain in place nationwide for at least another fortnight, Marie fears that more severe restrictions may be on the way given the stubbornly high number of cases in Dublin, which has been on Level 3 for a number of weeks.
“If [Level 3 restrictions] don’t work here is it all in vein?” she asks.
“There’s thousands of businesses being destroyed, and the cases aren’t going to come down because the pubs are not to blame, it’s house parties that are to blame. That’s the part that’s hardest to take.”
Marie says that greater enforcement of laws against house parties will be required to ensure that cases remain low.
“It’s so difficult to police people in their own home but we do want to see more enforcement and more compliance,” she says.
“If we do things right now, maybe we’re going to have a good Christmas. But if we don’t, things are just going to drag on and on and on and thousands of businesses are going to go to the wall.
“The public needs to understand that the word ‘house party’ doesn’t mean a gang of teenagers sitting around necking bottles of vodka,” she adds.
“It also means having six couples in a house having a dinner party, all very civilised. Maybe the word ‘house party’ needs to stop being used and use the word ‘gathering’ instead.”
She also insists that closure of off-licenses to discourage such gatherings would not work.
“If people want alcohol, they’ll get it,” she says. “It’ll just destroy the local off-license as well.”