Hospitality titans have backed the Can the Curfew campaign after 65% of operators warned their businesses would not survive six months with trade limited by the blanket 10pm closing time.
Tom Kerridge, Robin Hutson, Jeremy King, Peter Borg-Neal, Richard Corrigan and Asma Khan are just some of the leading operators joining The Caterer in calling on the government to look again at the trading restriction and trust the hospitality industry to do what it does best – take care of its guests.
Kerridge, chef-patron of the Hand & Flowers and the Coach, both in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, said: "I am fully behind the Can for Curfew campaign, as without any clear scientific evidence, it feels like yet another knee-jerk reaction from a misguided government that affects the hospitality industry without thinking it through properly.
"This industry has bent over backwards and spent millions to provide a safe and secure environment for people to enjoy themselves, with a complete understanding that we are in an incredibly serious pandemic, but these latest restrictions will prove to be the end for many businesses.
"The government must look to how it can support the night-time economy from a much larger picture of what it and the hospitality industry bring to the UK job and lifestyle market."
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Hutson, chairman and chief executive of Home Grown Hotels and the Lime Wood Group, said: "We just need the prime minister to realise that hospitality is his safety ally and absolutely not the cause of the problem. As an industry we have demonstrated admirably since 4 July how to operate safely.
"Johnson's attempt to curb a few city centre drinking dens has unwittingly dealt a hammer blow to every corner of the hospitality with this ill-thought-out blanket 10pm law – including tiny rural restaurants, country house hotels and a multitude of other seasonal businesses.
"To make matters worse, he is causing greater levels of infection by pushing the drinkers into unregulated environments."
Concerns that the curfew is counter-productive have been widespread, with the mayors of London and Manchester, Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham, calling for an urgent review after pictures showed crowds gathering in the streets or being forced onto public transport en masse after the carefully controlled environments in which they had been enjoying their evenings were forced to close their doors.
Indeed, Public Health England's statistics have yet to demonstrate that hospitality is, as has been said by some, a ‘hotbed' of infection. Just 4.2% of 782 new acute respiratory infection incidents reported between 21 and 27 September were linked to food outlets or restaurants, far fewer than have been linked to other out-of-home environments, including schools and universities, care homes, workplaces and hospitals.
Asma Khan, founder of Darjeeling Express, said: "The day the government announced the curfew I was dropping my son off at university, where many of the students were living in close proximity with shared facilities. It's ironic that the government did not consider university students in halls as potential spreaders of the virus, only diners eating in a restaurant after 10pm.
"The threat from Covid is very real to lives and the economy, and we needed some joined-up thinking rather than a fragmented approach. It's like expecting your house not to be flooded by shutting off one tap but keeping some others running."
Jeremy King, co-founder of Corbin & King, said: "There is absolutely zero justification for the curfew – ask any politician for a coherent explanation and you will fail to get one.
"A full-service restaurant is one of the safest public venues and there is no reason or justification whatsoever to herd every- one in and out of them at the same time. If they are deemed to be safe at all, then it is inconsequential as to when customers arrive or leave."
Consequently The Caterer has launched a petition to increase the pressure on the government to look again at this measure and give the industry a chance to protect its guests while also constructing a path to recovery and preserving the jobs of hundreds of thousands of people.
Over the last week The Caterer asked its readers to complete an online survey on the impact of the curfew on their businesses, and hundreds of you responded.
A fall in turnover was seen by 87% of operators over the first weekend the curfew was in place (26-27 September), while 30% saw a decline of less than 25%; 37% reported a downturn between 25% and 50%; and 20% saw takings plummet by more than 50%.
Meanwhile, 83% of operators reported a decline in average spend, with 21% saying it had fallen by more than 30%.
Editor James Stagg introduces the Can the Curfew campaign
As many of the operators supporting the Can the Curfew campaign have stressed, it's not just the loss of trading time that is hitting the industry; the implication of the curfew and the rhetoric used by leaders, including prime minister Boris Johnson and Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon, is that hospitality businesses pose a risk to health – something that yet to be backed up through their own figures.
Consequently, operators overwhelmingly reported a drop in consumer confidence just a month after the chancellor's Eat Out to Help Out scheme did so much to rebuild the industry. For 49% of respondents to our survey, this fall was ‘significant', with a further 35% reporting ‘some deterioration' and 9% ‘minimal deterioration'.
After the prime minister warned last week that these measures could remain in place for six months, the implications for the survival of hospitality jobs and businesses are stark, and a warning has already been sounded that one million jobs could be at risk.
Of those who completed our survey, a staggering 65% reported that their business could survive for six months or less under the 10pm curfew, with a further 17% saying they couldn't continue to trade with the restriction in place for more than a year.
Richard Corrigan, of London's Bentley's, Corrigan's and Daffodil Mulligan, said: "This curfew will be the death of many businesses and will put further jobs at risk. The West End has no tourists, theatres are closed and now guests have to pay the bill while eating their desserts. It's madness! Watching customers wait in the rain for taxis after coming to support us is incredibly frustrating.
"There is no logic behind this curfew and the government need to stop treating the hospitality industry as a scapegoat. Boris needs to wake up and start listening to one of the UK's biggest employers."
Jeremy Goring, chief executive of the Goring hotel in London, added: "The announcement caused immediate mass cancellations of rooms and restaurants. This translates to yet more lost jobs.
"We are one of many operators who had planned to rehire team members who sadly lost their jobs, but have had to put that on hold when phones rang off the hook with cancellations following the announcement.
"Hospitality is a force for good in the UK because we take anybody, regardless of background or qualification, and offer opportunity, employment and career progression. Four million people would agree. Do smash us if we transgress and fail to meet Covid safety standards, but don't smash us just to try to look good."
To sign the petition click here.