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Curfew reaction: operators fear toll of 'devastating' and 'illogical' restriction

22 September 2020 by
Curfew reaction: operators fear toll of 'devastating' and 'illogical' restriction

The blanket 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants across England has been described as a "devastating" and "illogical" ruling, which will have a significant impact on an industry that has spent more than six months struggling to save jobs and businesses.

It was announced last night that the operational curfew would be introduced from Thursday along will a ruling that hospitality venues must only offer table service.

The industry at large has questioned the justification for the increased measures, highlighting data from Public Health England, which suggests transmission of Covid-19 is significantly higher in care homes, workplaces and schools.

For Jeremy King, restaurateur and co-founder of Corbin & King, the new legislation fails to recognise that looking after people is was the hospitality industry does best. He explains: "The new legislation beggars' belief and yet again hasn't been thought through. It will ring the death knell for far too many restaurants unnecessarily. What the government seems to forget is that the hospitality industry, particularly restaurants, look after people better than they look after themselves."

He added: "The prime minister keeps reiterating his trust in the good sense of the British people and yet continues to treat us like children and idiots. At lunch, as the news broke, a succession of incredulous guests came through the door talking only of dissent and civil unrest."

Mark Birchall, chef patron of two-Michelin-starred Moor Hall in West Lancashire, told The Caterer, his restaurants would "make it work", but stressed that it seemed ridiculous to implement blanket restrictions across such a diverse sector. He added: "The R rates going up it's totally understandable they need to take measures but to me, to brand everyone the same, it's ridiculous.

"Our measures are as high as you could possibly get we couldn't do anything more. For me it's just massively frustrating that we're being treated the same as every other hospitality business.

"Why can't they punish the ones that aren't Covid-secure through licensing, if you walk into a bar and its rammed and not Covid-secure why should the whole industry suffer. We've had 7,500 guests through the door since reopening both restaurants, we've had no issues whatsoever. Touch wood that will continue."

Chairman and chief executive of D&D London, Des Gunewardena, said the measures would be "very damaging" for its restaurants and bars and particularly affect weekend trading, which had seen the strongest recovery in an already challenging trading environment.

Gunewardena added: "The government really needs to step up and say why they believe this policy will cut infections when the evidence suggests this [hospitality venues] is not where the infections are taking place. You could argue, and I would argue, that this could well make the health situation worse because people will go out for the evening, have their dinner, go to a bar and after the 10pm curfew they go from what are very well-regulated Covid-safe environments to their homes, where they continue to mingle and socialise in unregulated environments.

"It's a really odd decision that needs to be justified."

Many operators have stressed the impact the measures, which Johnson will confirm in an address to the nation today, will have on consumer confidence, something operators in the north-east, which has been under curfew since last week, have reported.

Emma Underwood, general manager of Darby's in south London, believes the business can mitigate the negative impact by opening for an extra day and bringing its dinner service forward an hour, but this is reliant on guests continuing to book tables.

She told The Caterer: "It's really frustrating and my main concern is that it's sending a message out to the guest that we're not safe, because any restrictions on dining are a further red flag in their eyes. I'm worried that we'll see a decline in bookings and a decline in confidence."

Underwood also highlighted the toll that constantly changing restrictions are taking on the mental health of operators and their teams across the industry.

She explained: "There were rumours all weekend and that really affects you mentally, spending your day off worrying about what will happen. We're all going to be waiting for the announcement today as well. From the messages I've had from friends in the industry today, they're all so upset and it's so sad.

"We've operated exactly as we've been told, the industry has responded to help the NHS, transformed their businesses, kept as many people employed as they can. We've fought through this and it's been so hard. Most of us worked the last six months without a break and to have it turned round in this way. It's devastating."

Stuart Procter, chief operating office of the Stafford Collection of hotels, said: "I'm hugely frustrated, angry and concerned about the new 10pm national curfew. It's baffling that the Government would spend £522m on the brilliant EOTHO scheme last month, encouraging the British public to eat out as much as possible, and now we are back to being enemy number one. Thanks to the scheme, we've taken staff off furlough to cope with the demand of customers - what do we do with them now? Once again we've seen a huge change of strategy and it's going to kill off so much of the hospitality industry when we're proven to be some of the safest businesses in the UK thanks to our new distancing, cleaning and internal tracing measures.

"Within the Stafford Collection, 19% of all reservations are made for dinner post 9pm, not including walk ins and hotel guests in the bar. This is a huge chunk of business which will now disappear for no good reason, does the virus only come out post 10pm? As an industry, we had just started to claw our way back from a catastrophic start to 2020, but this will be the nail in the coffin for so many in the hospitality and tourism sector."

Chef-restaurateur Jose Pizarro, who operates three restaurants in London and the Swan Inn in Surrey, anticipated a 10pm curfew would see the loss of a further 33% of his business.

He told The Caterer: "I don't think it's very clear what they want us to do. It's stupid, really bloody stupid." Pizarro said that the as the weather gets colder into the autumn and winter the situation will get even harder, with outdoor space less appealing.

Jack Stein, chef director of the Rick Stein Group said the loss of trade was a "tough pill to swallow" as his business prepared to contact more than 900 customers with reservations across its portfolio, despite the R rate in the surrounding areas being low.

He explained: "The vast majority of our restaurants are in Cornwall, an area where the infection rate is still very low so it's difficult to understand the reasoning of a nationwide curfew. I think they are right to impose tighter restrictions on areas where there is a dangerously high rate, however that isn't us, so it's a tough pill to swallow. Once again, we're relying on the government to take the scientific advice and form policy to minimise a second wave and help us reopen fully as soon as we can."

Hospitality Action has said its confidential, 24/7 helpline is available for those feeling worried about today's announcement on 0808 802 0282.

Picture: Pippa Fowles/No 10 Downing Street.

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