Approaching four years since the world turned upside down and the unthinkable happened – the pubs were shut – Jennifer Hale reflects on the lessons learned.


By sharing photographs from an exhibition entitled Resilience, the state library of Western Australia aims to remind viewers how retail and hospitality businesses showed adaptability and perseverance during the challenging lockdowns of the pandemic.

As important social hubs, especially in remote areas, pubs were particularly hard hit by the drop in consumer demand and loss of revenue. Some pubs felt they had no option but to flout lockdown regulations and remain open during lockdowns to cover costs, while others were forced to close their doors for good.

However, despite the pubs being shut, consumption of alcohol rose during the pandemic and businesses that were in a position to adapt and diversify were able to continue operating.

After travel restrictions forced customers to appreciate their local amenities more, country pubs have risen in popularity, and through collaborating with other local businesses, protecting their supply chains and improving their digital connectivity, they could continue to thrive even in uncertain times.

Building Strong Business Relationships

The impact of the pandemic revealed the importance of supporting local businesses and establishing mutually beneficial collaborations with reputable partners in order to become more robust in the face of the many challenges posed by restrictions. 

By connecting with other businesses, such as suppliers of bar equipment, or local craft breweries, pubs can grow their business and benefit from sharing local knowledge and expertise, while minimising the risks associated with lengthy supply chains.

More than 50 per cent of Australia’s 567 craft breweries are situated in non-metropolitan areas, and the majority are keen to foster connections with the local economy. 

During lockdown, liquor licensing restrictions were relaxed so that pubs and small bars could sell alcohol to their regular customers for consumption at home. Many pubs turned to selling takeaway draught beer in growlers and mini kegs, so establishing a strong relationship with a local brewer could ensure a reliable revenue stream even in challenging circumstances.

Minimising Disruption to Supply Chains

Working with other local businesses can help to minimise problems with deliveries and strengthen the supply chains that became so vulnerable during lockdowns. In examining the resilience of small businesses after COVID, researchers found that disruption to supply chains was one of the biggest challenges they faced.

However, efficient businesses with financial security and flexibility in sourcing were less negatively affected.

In the future, pubs that restructure their supply chains to incorporate local distributors, use a number of alternative sources and make greater use of automation will be able to reduce the risks of disruption to supply chains.

Improving Digital Connectivity

While country pubs have become more popular, both with tourists and within their local community, digital connectivity still remains an issue for many rural businesses and without improvement could limit competitiveness and growth.

In a digital age, crisis resilience depends heavily on telecommunications infrastructure, and pubs that have greater IT capabilities and speedy online connections can stay better connected to their business partners and customers – even when faced with challenges such as those of the lockdowns.

Continuity of internet services can be improved with efficient devices such as modems and routers that optimise connections to existing services, and  which are then ready for when infrastructure and access to the internet are further improved in rural areas.

As important social institutions, pubs were particularly hard-hit during lockdowns, but those that were able to adapt were more resilient in the face of reduced demand, and sudden drops in revenue. 

Looking forward, strengthened ties with other local businesses, stronger supply chains and greater digital connectivity could help to ensure that rural pubs have the potential to thrive, even during the most challenging times.

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