Yesterday's reopening roadmap for England has been broadly welcomed by the foodservice sector, with some events to resume from April, however there appeared to be no end in sight to working from home.
Simona Oproiu, business development director at workplace and venue catering company Graysons, said: "While some of the detail is clearly missing, it gives us at least some dates to work towards with our own planning and it is really encouraging to see that government has recognised the different types of hospitality businesses and the references to smaller and larger events especially."
Even in the 24 hours following the announcement, the company has seen a "huge uptick" in event enquiries, she said.
In step two of the country's reopening roadmap, which will be no earlier than 12 April, event pilots will begin and wedding receptions of up to 15 people will be permitted. This is hoped to increase to 30 people by 17 May, when some larger events will resume with capacity limitations. From 21 June it is hoped there will be no legal limit on life events or social contact and larger events will resume to some normality.
Andrew McKenzie, managing director of the 49-bedroom Vineyard at Stockcross in Berkshire, said the announcement had been disappointed, broadly as anticipated, but that the return of weddings was "a glimmer of hope and optimism amongst the gloom".
He added: "My genuine fear was that we would not see the return of this hugely important element of our business until much later in the year."
Robert McKay, general manager of the 11-bedroom Airds hotel in Port Appin, Argyll, said: "As lockdown begins to ease there's no doubt that luxury weddings will be taking a new direction. Planning is now crucial for smaller more intimate weddings as the staycation market is set to boom. Couples will be choosing to hire venues exclusively where they will be more in control of the environment. As these are private events, weddings have the advantage over other hospitality industries as couples have clarity on who is attending."
However, businesses will only have seven days' notice for confirmation of any of these steps going ahead.
Danny Pecorelli, managing director of the Exclusive Collection of hotels and venues, said the announcement was "great news for the whole wedding sector and supply chain", however added: "With only one week's notice to confirm that restrictions are lifted, how many people are going to plan the biggest day of their lives without certainty that the government isn't going to shut it down the road again?"
Alex Head, chief executive and founder of London event catering company Social Pantry, added: "We can't pick up where we left off. It's going to take time to grow the team, to recruit and get back to the level we were. Obviously we'll do that as quickly as we possibly can, but the reality is there's depleted businesses coming out the back of this with a lot of debt, and it will be a real challenge to mobilise effectively."
She called for weddings and marquees to be considered separately ("there's no reason why you could sit in a pub garden and not in a marquee for a wedding") and said companies that will have to wait until May or even later to reopen will need additional, targeted grants.
Although her company has had several event enquiries since the announcement, she said she remained "cautiously optimistic [as] there's three steps ahead of us that all need to go to plan". She also hoped workplaces will begin reopening soon, as office catering contracts underpin the business.
From 29 March it will no longer be a legal requirement to stay at home, however Boris Johnson said people should continue to work from home where they can and minimise travel.
Catherine Roe, managing director at Elior UK, said further clarity around the return to offices would be welcomed as the uncertainty "remains challenging for the sector", adding that certainty on the continuation of the furlough scheme would also be helpful.
Oproiu said: "It is hugely disappointing as business and industry caterers to see that the work from home messaging is unlikely to change until much later in the year, as we have really robust Covid operating procedures in place to create safe environments. It seems at odds with reopening bars and restaurants but keeping workplaces closed."
She added that although the roadmap was positive news for the sector, businesses will need additional support such as an extension of furlough in the chancellor's Budget next week to ensure businesses can get back on their feet.
Wendy Bartlett, founder of Bartlett Mitchell, said that the government's financial packages "need to support an industry which has been impacted more than most sectors for the best part of a year".
Noel Mahony, chief executive of BaxterStorey, added: "Now that we have a roadmap which is said to be data driven, I hope that this data is shared so we can all see how decisions are being made which impact the livelihoods of millions of people across the UK.
"We now await the chancellor's assurance that he will continue to support our sector while we remain in lockdown."
Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the Meetings Industry Association (MIA), also said it was "critical" for the government to communicate progress over the coming months to ensure already vulnerable venues can prepare for reopening or date changes. According to MIA research, almost half of businesses forecast they will become unviable by June 2021.
"It is therefore paramount that intermedial support is provided to ensure that organisations cannot just prepare for reopening but survive up until the outlined return date," said Longhurst, who called for an extension of the furlough scheme, VAT reduction and business rates relief, as well as the introduction of government-backed insurance schemes.
Juliet Price, consultant executive director of the Hotel Booking Agents Association (HBAA), also highlighted that "dates alone are not enough for the survival of some businesses".
She said: "Our immediate concern is ensuring that our hard-hit industry receives specific and crucial financial support in next week's Budget to aid its recovery, including the continuation of furlough, rates relief for 2021/2022, reduction in VAT and an extension of grants to businesses.
"Many will not see the benefit of reopening dates for meetings, events and accommodation as an instant fix, but more of a first step towards earning future income after 12 months of having none at all, and a pathway to ensuring our people can return to employment."
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Events (APPG) has written to the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport and the chancellor requesting further detail, for example on bringing forward the dates of pilot events and introducing a government-backed insurance scheme. The APPG has also asked for clarity on the G7 Summit, which is due to take place in Cornwall on 11 June however restrictions on large business events are not due to be fully lifted until 21 June, and for the chancellor to give full consideration in his Budget next week for further tailored support to the events sector, until such time as it is permitted to fully open and return to its pre-pandemic operating levels.
Jon Davies, managing director of Levy UK & Ireland, Compass Group's stadia, arena and conference centre arm, said: "We know it is possible to host safe events for spectators despite the pandemic. The test events we've hosted during the past year at venues including Edgbaston, the Twickenham Stoop and the Oval are testament to the fact that events can be exciting and enjoyable, as well as safe. We'll be taking the same careful approach to our planning and preparation for the upcoming pilot programme as we did for last summer's schedule, and we're confident that if we remain on the current trajectory in terms of infection rates and the vaccine rollout that events will be open to guests this summer."
"Beyond fixed venue mobilisation, decisions will also need to be made in the next month regarding infrastructure build costs for greenfield events. It's difficult to plan for these types of events without specific government commitments, as it is logistically much more challenging (and costly) to extend or reduce capacity for large greenfield events at short notice."
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