‘Save the Pub!’ Thousands of Czechs buy vouchers to keep favourite haunts afloat

Photo: Ondřej Tomšů

Of the approximately 50,000 pubs in the Czech Republic, nine out of ten have shuttered due to anti-coronavirus measures put in place a month ago. The rest are selling beer out of their windows, trying to stay afloat until social-distancing and other state of emergency measures are lifted. Meanwhile, the newly launched initiative “Save the Pub!” has sold millions of vouchers, enabling customers to support their favourite local haunts until the crisis passes.

Václav Berka,  photo: Czech Television
The goal of the Zachraň hospodu! (Save the Pub!) initiative is to connect pubs and restaurants with their customers and allow people to help them survive until they can fully resume operations. Doing so is a way to show solidary. It is also an act of faith – there is no guarantee that all vouchers can be redeemed, as some businesses may fail.

The initiative partners include a dozen of the Czech Republic’s biggest breweries, alcohol and soft drinks producers, which are shouldering the administrative costs. Among them is Plzeňský Prazdroj, the makers of Pilsner Urquell.

Their chief brewmaster emeritus, Václav Berka, says that pubs and restaurants that survive the coronavirus closings will still need help when they reopen, ostensibly in early June, according to a government plan announced on Tuesday.

“It’s a huge problem. Czech gastronomy is in a critical state and not only are jobs threatened but so is a part of our economy and social life. More than 90 percent of establishments are now closed. Czech pubs are part of our culture, an important part of communities. They are in fact a social network.”

The Save the Pub! website lets customers select establishments by region, district or neighbourhood. As of Friday afternoon, than 3,000 people had bought vouchers through the system – for anywhere from 100 crowns (good for two, maybe three pints) to 1,000 crowns (enough to have a proper night out for two).

“Already more than 2,100 pubs have registered, and customers have really responded. People have already bought some 7 million crowns worth of vouchers, supporting some 750 establishments! It’s wonderful that we can help them this way.”

The Save the Pub! initiative has also been supporting pubs and restaurants, for example, by giving them plastic bottles to sell take-away beer. But places that normally cater to tourists, rather than local regulars (“štamgasti”), have not been able to open in even such a limited way.

Photo: Ondřej Tomšů
Breweries’ sales are down by 40 percent, and they have also asked the government for help, in the form of forgiving excise duty on draft beer, on top of other support, such as paying part of the wages of idle employees, to discourage layoffs.

Brewmaster Václav Berka says he sees light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and already has plans to redeem some vouchers.

“The people on the front lines, of course, are protecting our health. I happen to know the University Hospital in Pilsen director, Dr Václav Šimánek, quite well. And when this is all over, will definitely get together with some of those first responder teams – and drink.”

The government’s timetable for easing anti-coronavirus measures envisions a gradual reopening of shops and services under strict hygienic conditions over the coming seven weeks. As of May 12, restaurants and cafés with outdoor gardens can begin serving again, and as of June 8, so too can indoor establishments.

According to the Czech-Moravian Brewery Association, by that time up to 40 percent of breweries, including some 500 microbreweries, may have closed or been compelled to sell their operations to bigger competitors.