Pubs and bars are failing to collect accurate customer data

Is it time the government forced them to do better?

By Jim Preen, Director of Crisis Management at YUDU Sentinel

Header Image by Ty Feague

With reference to:

When the prime minster launched the UK’s test-and-trace scheme he promoted it as being a ‘world beating service’ seen as vital in the battle against Covid-19 and the easing of lockdown restrictions. Unfortunately, it hasn’t tuned out that way. The Guardian newspaper recently reported that contract tracers were only conducting a handful of calls every month and many of the numbers they were asked to dial proved to be fake.

Full disclosure: The company I work for makes ‘Check-in’ a contact tracing solution for the hospitality industry and as part of our market research I visited ten pubs in the Kennington area of London to see what data collection systems they were operating.

While my findings are in no way scientific it soon became clear that bars were far more interested in pulling pints than collecting data.

The systems used by the pubs fell into two categories. One was the humble pen and paper left on the bar where you are supposed to record your name, address, phone number and the date and time. In one of the pubs I visited the pad was kept behind the bar with lots of gubbins on top of it. I never once saw it used in anger. The other approach gets customers to log on to a website where they are asked to leave their contact details. Whether using pen and paper or the more high-tech online approach I never saw anyone check if the details were correct. Many punters clearly didn’t register at all. Fake data is as much use as no data which is no use at all.

An investigation by Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper found that when they visited seven pubs belonging to the JD Wetherspoon chain in and around Glasgow, just two asked for customer details.

The pubs displayed posters advising customers to comply with test and trace guidelines. There were slips of paper available for customers to fill in their contact details as well as signs on tables telling them how to register online.

However, the reporters saw no evidence of customers complying and there was no encouragement from employees to do so.

This lax approach or short-term thinking will come back to bite hospitality. If the NHS test-and-trace scheme fails, then lockdown will come down hard once again.  Recently pubs and bars in Aberdeen were forced to shutter following a surge in cases of coronavirus and people were told not to travel into the city and its residents forbidden from entering each other’s houses.

Subsequently the Scottish government has now made it mandatory for pubs bars and restaurants to take customer details.

Pubs are not exactly helping themselves, but when it comes to apportioning blame some of it must lie with the UK government. At the moment Whitehall has only issued guidelines to the hospitality industry. None of their guidance is compulsory, nobody is facing a fine if they don’t collect accurate data.

Perhaps it’s time for HMG to start waving the big waggy regulatory finger and to follow Scotland’s example and force hospitality to really get behind test-and-trace. If they don’t, we could be looking at a pub free autumn, or worst of all a pub free Christmas.

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