The landlord of a popular pub in Bexleyheath has said the focus is fully on the future after a difficult year for the industry, and says things are flourishing after a bumpy reopening.

Pete Marshall, landlord of The King's Arms on The Broadway, said that despite nearly all the equipment breaking within the first week, the April reopening has gone excellently, with staff and procedures now fully 'in the groove.'

The Bexleyheath public house reopened on April 12, making full use of its revitalised rooftop terrace, and we spoke to Mr Marshall about how he'd found the process this time round, as well as the whole year of Covid.

The News Shopper spoke to Mr Marshall back in June 2020 ahead of the reopening of pubs for the first time since the emergence of the virus, and heard for the first time about plans for bookings-only, table service, perspex screens and reduced capacity.

The Kings Arms in Bexleyheath, south east London

The King's Arms in Bexleyheath, south east London

Now, in May 2021, the same precautions have been taken once again, but new measures have also been brought in to make the operation run smoothly.

Walkie-talkies and bells ensure staff across the pub can manage crowds, orders and cleaning regimes efficiently, plus a new booking system has been introduced.

New routes reducing how the amount of movement have been brought in, with the terrace roof garden and downstairs indoor seating almost operating separately.

"We're still adapting and tweaking," said Pete, "but we've managed people's expectations really well I think."

The Kings Arms roof terrace in Bexleyheath

The King's Arms' roof terrace in Bexleyheath

"This is how you have to prepare if you want things to run slick, and we knew customers' expectations would be sky-high, thinking pubs would just be back to normal."

The Kings Arms roof terrace in Bexleyheath

The King's Arms' roof terrace in Bexleyheath

Pete said preparation for the reopening started four or five weeks before when decisions had to be made about how to run things safely, although they were also still looking out for a curveball in Government's guidance.

A week before the process really ramped up, getting staff ready and retrained and comfortable back behind the bar.

"We heard about horror stories at some other pubs, but here everything was carefully planned, and we've also taken the reopening really carefully.

Pete Marshall, landlord.

Pete Marshall, landlord.

"Of course we want to be fully booked, but we also wanted to stagger how things returned so they were manageable, and that will be the same as of May 17."

The first week was far from perfect, however, with nearly all equipment faltering.

Pete said: "It was beyond a joke how much went wrong; the beer cooler, ice machine, our walkie talkies, half the beer lines were down.

"It wasn't just us, everyone had it. The equipment we use isn't made to be turned off and not used for six months, so nearly all pubs had some issues. Luckily they were very quickly fixed, and since then we've really got the ball rolling."

He continued: "To be honest the first week was tough. And given how much things have changed, from the menu to sanitising regimes, we had to work hard to get back up to pace.

"But what took a lot of extra focus on week one, like cleaning the tables after every use, is now already second-nature to my staff again. They're a great team.

"Tables have on the most part been fully booked, although as party sizes often differ it's not always 'full'.

"I don't think we have the type of crowd that gets particularly rowdy," said Pete, "but people have definitely enjoyed being back.

"We're in this industry because we love people, it's been unusual to be away for so long and we've enjoyed being back. We've adapted to what has been expected of us."

Pete said that plans were already in place for May 17, with bookings open for indoor seating, and in exciting news, the pub quiz is returning on May 19.

The Kings Arms in Bexleyheath, south east London

The King's Arms in Bexleyheath, south east London

Live music will follow shortly after, and the landlord said that whilst other events would return, they would be staggering them and judging things are they progressed.

Now over a year on from the pandemic's dramatic emergence, Pete said it had been a bitter pill to swallow.

"The last year has been unbelievably tough, as everyone surely knows. The hardest part was the stop and starts, we had three different lockdowns!

"It made buying supplies, keeping equipment going and motivating staff frustrating. In total, March to March, we were closed for 56% of the year."

Asked about the finances, he said: "We are never going to recover the lost finances from Covid, its written off, we've come to terms with that, and nothing will make up for it.

"So the cards have been redealt, and it has to be full steam ahead for us now. We know we will make it work."

The Kings Arms in Bexleyheath, south east London

The King's Arms in Bexleyheath, south east London

The King's Arms also kept up a number of community initiatives, from online charity pub quizzes, free food for NHS workers, or even giving out free barrels of expiring beer.

And Pete said looking back, he was incredibly proud of what they've achieved, but in reopening and when their doors where closed.

"We know, if we do our jobs right and stay close to the local community, we are a strong asset to the area. There has to be trust between the pub and the people.

"Personally I didn't want us to stop having a presence in the community just for the sake of it. I wanted us to keep going, and yes we knew keeping ourselves in sight would help us when we reopened.

"But that's not the reason we did it. And when I force myself to look back, I do have some fond memories of the past year, some great times and achievements.

"But for now, we're very much focused on the summer and the future."