This past weekend, pubs and restaurants across England reopened for the first time in months—and more people than initially expected decided to visit the pub.
In the week before their reopening, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies asked respondents when they next planned on visiting a pub, and only 7% said they intended to visit a pub on the weekend of their reopening.
However, our poll this week found that actually 15% of respondents saying they visited a pub last weekend, twice as many as had previously said they intended to. This doubling of the proportion that visited a pub is indicative of the gap that often exists between any normal human beings’ intentions prior to an event, and how they actually behave once it unfolds. Such a gap between expectations and behaviour could be a reflection of last-minute plans or of social pressure (that is, people being persuaded to go out by their friends or family at the last minute).
But it could also partially be a reflection of the wording of the questions, raising a broader point on survey design. For instance, our question last week provided a list of options as to when a respondent intended to visit a pub. This week’s question was simply a yes/no question as to whether a respondent had visited a pub. As such, the two questions are not like-for-like. Furthermore, last week’s question perhaps may have been more informative if it had asked respondents how likely they would be to visit a pub in the coming weekend.
Among respondents who went to a pub last weekend, 64% felt safe and 32% unsafe. It is possible that the 32% who felt unsafe include many of those who were not originally planning to visit a pub last weekend, but ultimately found themselves at one. However, given many people’s expectations that the reopening of pubs would be chaotic and lead to overcrowding, it will be welcome news to pub operators that two-thirds of pub visitors did feel safe with the current social distancing measures that are in place.
Likewise, among respondents who visited a pub last weekend, 67% of them say they plan to visit a pub again before the end of July, including 30% who will return as early as this week. It is likely that the 67% who plan to return before the end of July has significant overlaps with the 64% who felt safe at the pub last weekend.
On the other hand, among those who did not visit a pub last weekend, only 12% plan to visit one before the end of July. However, given the gap between anticipated and actual behaviour that was seen above, it is very possible that the figure will be higher than 12% when we conduct polling at the end of the month. Likewise, in the coming weeks, the behaviour of the 21% who do not know when they will next visit a pub will prove to be particularly important for pub operators across the country.
During the coronavirus pandemic, our research has shown that the lockdown in the UK has been driven by the public rather than the Government, with the public and the media pressuring the Government into introducing stricter social distancing measures in March. However, our results this week are an early signal that many may be persuaded that it is now safe to return to the UK’s pubs and restaurants, despite widespread reluctance across the country to venture out. Nonetheless, the possibility of new outbreaks as a result of the reopening hovers above, preventing the majority from wanting to visit a pub before the end of the month.