What it means to reopen Europe’s bars

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Bars, pubs and cafés across Europe are looking forward to welcoming back customers after months of lockdown. For many, it comes not a moment too soon. It will be an emotional moment as friends and families reunite, once again raising their glasses to savour the beers that they have missed for so long.

Different countries have different plans: outdoor terraces in Belgium reopen on May 8; in Austria and France, it will be mid-May; it was last month in Britain; mid-April in Denmark, Portugal and Slovenia; in Cyprus and Spain they’ve been open for a couple of months; while in Sweden, bars never fully closed. For many, there are still no clear plans, particularly for indoor opening.

But for all countries, reopening cafés, pubs and restaurants is a powerful symbol of the start of recovery from the worst that the pandemic has wrought. As bars start pouring pils, lagers, bitters, stouts, IPAs and other different brews, it can help to spark the recovery for the whole European economy – and rebuild society.

This is certainly the case for brewers themselves, who need a boost after bars closed repeatedly during the pandemic. The Europe Economics’ Beer Covid Impact Report, published on April 26, shows how much the beer hospitality trade has suffered.

In 2020, beer sold on-trade dropped 42% compared to 2019, from 126 to 73 million hectolitres. Jobs generated in the beer value chain fell by an estimated one third in 2020, from 2.6 to 1.8 million people. That is why everyone in the hospitality trade has been waiting for the green light to reopen.

There are wider implications too. The long wait had a devastating effect on social lives, livelihoods, culture, the economy and government finances. But with continued targeted support, governments can expect to receive around €11 billion in extra tax revenues if beer hospitality returns to pre-pandemic levels of activity.

The beer value chain bouncing back to pre-Covid levels can also bring €13 billion in value added back into the European economy.

Many bars and breweries will unfortunately never reopen, even after the lockdown ends. This has affected a wide range of people, from the bar staff serving the beer to the brewers, distributers and others who grow and harvest the grains and hops for the drinks in your hand.

Even those who have weathered the crisis, making the necessary investments to ensure Covid-safe environments, still need support to make it through the next few months of partial reopening. We hope this can continue, consumer confidence will rise and that the 860,000 jobs lost in 2020 will eventually return. But it depends on how authorities manage the recovery.

There is a lot that governments can do to keep the sector going, such as prolonging temporary unemployment benefits, flexible liquidity grants, reduced VAT rates in hospitality and targeted excise relief for hard-hit sectors. There is much at stake for governments too: they stand to benefit significantly from a revitalised social economy if they get behind beer hospitality.

The reopening is happening at a time of deeper change in the beer sector. We are becoming more sustainable in our practices and more aligned with our local environment. We are getting more creative in our brewing methods and range of beers: our sector is bubbling with innovation, creating a range of new styles, textures and flavours.

And we are leading the way in responsible drinking, including through the low alcohol and no alcohol choices on offer.

Beer has a history of bringing people and communities together. Bars are places for first encounters, for friends to celebrate and for families to reunite. They are a backdrop for workmates to relax after long, hard days, and they are the venue for some of the most engaging conversations people will ever have.

Bars and beer bind people together, whatever their background.

That is why we need to get the reopening right. We need clarity and certainty. A thriving hospitality sector is a key to the wider recovery, including as an important symbol of consumer confidence. With targeted support, beer hospitality can lift the economy, bring in much-needed government revenues and boost jobs all along the brewing, production and hospitality value chain.

Bars and pubs can once again become pillars of the local community – and with it, the economy.

As Europe plans its recovery, we are ready to play our role in driving the economy, continuing our push for greener practices, and rebuilding local communities. But most of all, we really want to brew and see our consumers coming together over a beer once again. I hope you can join us.

How beer hospitality can kickstart the European recovery

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