Pub desks: Sick of home working? I made the pub my office for a day

By Hazel Shearing
BBC News

  • Published
Hazel working in the pub

In the old days, journalists had a reputation for spending more time in the pub than in the newsroom.

So, in some ways, I'm paying my respects to a Fleet Street tradition as I sit down at my table at the Bull's Head near Orpington.

It's one of dozens of pubs across the country that have started offering a new service - "pub desks".

Punters who have been working remotely during the pandemic are being given the chance to escape the familiar four walls of their home office, and work from the pub instead.

For landlords, it's a way to make up for lost revenue after months spent grappling with the impact of Covid-19, including the introduction of the 10pm closing time in England and the shutting of pubs and restaurants in central Scotland until 25 October.

Some pub-goers have queried whether "pub desks" offer a safe way of working, but industry leaders argue more coronavirus transmissions take place in educational settings and care homes than in pubs and restaurants.

Image caption,
Joe's pub was open for only six weeks after a refurbishment, before the national lockdown began in March

In this village pub in Kent, a tenner gets you a table by a plug socket, wi-fi, lunch (I went for a halloumi wrap) and unlimited tea and coffee. (Pints, sadly, are not included.)

"We're just happy to have people in," says Joe Courtney, the landlord, who is wearing a visor when I walk through the door. "If we can't get people in after 10pm we're going to have to try and bring them in before 12pm."

Before the pandemic, Joe might have rolled his eyes whenever someone took up a table for three hours, sipping on a single cappuccino while taking work calls. But now he hopes "pub desking" will give the place a bit more of an atmosphere during the day.

"I'm used to the bar guys and girls shoulder-to-shoulder waiting for their tables, having a chat. Where that's gone, sometimes you walk in and you feel like you've got an empty pub," he says.

He's only just advertised the deal when I visit, and says most bookings are next week - but there are one or two people tapping away.

Image caption,
Fellow pub desk worker Danni Ewins

Danni Ewins used to spend Friday nights here with friends when she was 18. Now 31, and working remotely - due to the pandemic - for a chauffeur company in London, she finds herself seated with a notebook, pinging off emails to colleagues.

"It's strange," she says. "Normally I would stand at the bar for ages talking. Now it's just like, 'Oh you can't do that, just go straight in.'"

She's popped in for an hour or two to get some work done.

"The little one is going to be due home any minute now. When she walks through the door it's just constant. The dog goes mad," she laughs. "I just thought, I'll go out of the house and get stuck in."

Danni plans to come back next week with a friend, who is also working remotely.

"We'll have separate tables, but at least that way you've got someone to go out for a cigarette with or when it is quiet you can have a conversation face-to-face... even if it's about nonsense," she says.

Image caption,
Zoom calls are a lot easier with sweet potato fries

From Cardiff to Ipswich to Inverness, social media comments suggest pub-goers have been yearning for this experience. A Facebook post by the Stag at Walton near Warrington was shared more than 1,100 times in three days.

"I love this idea! Being at home can be boring," one user commented. "We could get tables next to each other," another wrote, tagging her friend.

But some have questioned the idea. One person, responding to the Stag at Walton's post, apologised for being a "killjoy" and asked how it would fit with local coronavirus restrictions.

The pub responded that anyone sharing a table ought to be from the same household.

Fed up of working from home & would like a change of scenery? 🤔 We are offering you a ‘pub desk’ 💻 A table to...

Posted by The Stag at Walton on Monday, October 5, 2020
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original post on Facebook

The Stag's landlady, Lisa Hammersley, says the dissent has not put people off.

"It's completely socially distant, most people are single people who are working from home and are just climbing the walls because they've been working from home since April," she says.

Image source, Red Lion Badlesmere
Image caption,
Natalie Phillips says her husband has been "missing the city life"

That's the case for Natalie Phillips, 40, in Kent and her husband Adam. She says they went to the Red Lion near Faversham on Tuesday for "a change of scene" and to support the pub.

"I wouldn't do it every week, but it made a nice change. My husband and I have both been working from our dining room table every day since lockdown began," she says.

"I felt safe as the pub had all their safety measures in place and we were tucked in a nice corner table."


The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy did not respond specifically to questions about the deals, but said: "To slow the spread of the virus and save lives office workers who can work from home should do so."

Back in the Bull's Head, Joe jokes that "pub desks" are a good way to make sure you "get out of your pyjamas".

"It's good for us as well. If one half of the pub is full with pub desk workers, when people come in for a drink they see a bit of an atmosphere and they're not the only ones in the pub," he says.

He thinks pubs "aren't getting enough credit for the work they're doing" and wants to see coronavirus restrictions eased in places with lower infection rates.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said in an interview with BBC Essex - citing Public Health England data - that more coronavirus transmissions take place in educational settings and care homes than in pubs and restaurants.

"Yet we are the sector that's being targeted and that's going to hurt our economy," she says.

"If we are having sector-specific restrictions on our trading then we need sector-specific support to ensure our survival beyond any lockdown that comes, beyond any closing and, actually, beyond this winter."

So, after an afternoon spent on team Zoom calls and trawling social media for this feature, was it two pints of lager and a load of deadlines?

Sadly, I stuck to one (I was working, after all). The deadlines bit is true, though.