Published: 06:00, 14 December 2020
Pubs are preparing for an al fresco future as landlords expect the public's desire for social distancing to continue well beyond the pandemic.
They have devised plans for canopy areas allowing them to serve meals and drinks to customers outside when the county is eventually released from Tier 3.
Two pubs in Whitstable have put forward their proposals for 2021 as they bid to cater for the rules and changed mindset of customers.
Owners of The Old Neptune - the town's iconic seafront pub - have put forward a bid for an awning to protect drinkers from the rain.
The freestanding, removable structure is supported by a steel frame and will cover part of the outdoor seating area.
Proposals for the design have been lodged with Canterbury City Council and documents attached to the planning application state: "Due to the coronavirus pandemic, limitations on indoor gatherings are likely to be in effect for the foreseeable future.
“This, understandably, is having an impact on trading for the pub. Moving into the winter months, there will be a vastly increased need to be able to host willing patrons outside in order to try and maximise business when it is needed the most.
“Extra shelter space in the summer months will also be beneficial and will encourage people to stay longer and spend more money.”
Elsewhere in Whitstable, the Rose in Bloom is planning to install a retractable cover in its pub garden in Joy Lane.
The proposal has been backed by the overwhelming majority, including supporter Karen Hillier who said: "People need somewhere to go, it is not a rowdy pub, it provides a safe place for families and friends to meet.
"The structure will provide more space for people to enjoy spending time with family and friends, and give the pub the income it desperately needs and provide local people with jobs they will need in this challenging times."
The plans are now with the city council to determine.
Eddie Sargeant, who runs the Old Coach and Horses pub in Harbledown, has been busy throughout the year renovating his premises catering for an increased desire for outdoor dining.
He says punters will be in a social distancing mindset for all of 2021.
"Even with the vaccine and post-Covid people will still be in that mindset and will be wary - they'll eat outside a lot more to give themselves space," he said.
"People who never usually did so, have been forced to go outside and they've enjoyed it.
"So pubs have needed to adapt.
"Areas outside have got better as a result - you're not just sitting in a pub garden with a manky old bench.
"Over the years, they've very much been under-utilised. People have realised you've got to get clever now.
"You can't just run a pub as a local as that's not sustainable. You've to make more than one pub out of a pub - that's the way I look at it, creating different eating and drinking areas."
Prior to the pandemic, Mr Sargeant began dreaming up his now-complete outdoor lounge bar - a refurbishment which he says should be the way forward for other pubs.
"Here, we're looking at having three different pubs in one," he said.
"We're going to do more in the big garden itself next year which will give us loads more seats.
"I've got a project lined up to transform it by putting a kitchen and bar area outside, so people will be able to turn up, eat outside and never set foot in the pub if they wish."