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Hospitality operators in high tier areas 'devastated' by loss of vital pre-Christmas trade

26 November 2020 by
Hospitality operators in high tier areas 'devastated' by loss of vital pre-Christmas trade

Hospitality operators in England who have learned they will be reopening under Tier 2 restrictions, or not reopening at all in Tier 3, have said they are frustrated and devastated at losing vital pre-Christmas trade.

It was announced earlier this afternoon which tiers each region will be placed into when lockdown ends on 2 December, with areas such as Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Bristol entering Tier 3.

Around 98% of the industry will be subject to the two highest levels of rules, according to UKHospitality.

More than 120,000 venues in England will be in Tier 2, where alcohol can only be served with a ‘substantial meal' and there is a ban on household mixing indoors. A further 38,000 businesses in Tier 3 will have to remain closed apart from offering takeaway or delivery.

Roxane Marjoram, co-owner of the Gusto Pronto group, told The Caterer she felt "exhausted" and "devastated" by the news that her five pubs in Suffolk and Essex will all enter Tier 2.

One site, the Beerhouse, will be unable to reopen as it doesn't serve food. This is despite the team spending thousands of pounds installing outdoor seating and beer huts over the past few months.

"It feels like hospitality is being singled out," said Marjoram. "The level of support isn't matching up to the restrictions. We're still facing a big gap in our budget for February when we were expecting the Job Retention Bonus to be paid out. The worry is what will happen over the next few months."

Chef Michael O'Hare will be unable to reopen his Michelin-starred Leeds restaurant the Man Behind The Curtain as the region enters Tier 3.

He said he was struggling to understand the logic behind the government decisions: "I have a 7,500 sq ft restaurant with 32 seats that had three metres between tables even before Covid. The idea that it's not as safe as a Sports Direct or the London Underground blows my mind.

"Nobody in Leeds can have food or drink inside a licensed premises, probably for the whole festive period, but they can travel 10 miles to Harrogate and do whatever they want. It could be carnage."

Kenny Atkinson, chef-patron of Newcastle's Michelin-starred House of Tides, said it was frustrating that the region was entering Tier 3 following two local lockdowns.

His eight-seat bistro, Violets, has been unable to open since March, but the chef has still had to pay rent with no revenue coming through the door.

Atkinson said: "Normally November is one of our strongest months – it's a five-weekend month which really sets you up for Christmas and January. To lose that was heart-breaking."

He added: "I feel like the north is being punished. What I don't understand is hairdressers, barbers, gyms and shops can all open up [in every tier], but hospitality is getting penalised."

In the south-east, Allister Barsby of Hide & Fox restaurant in Hythe, was frustrated that Kent was placed in Tier 3, as he was hoping to reopen next week.

"We've got a really strong local community behind us. The response [to our takeaway offering] has been amazing – which is why we've been able to survive," he said, adding that he was still hopeful the business could open before Christmas.

Aktar Islam, who operates Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Opheem and Argentinian steakhouse Pulperia in Birmingham, said he was "devastated" but not surprised by the city entering Tier 3.

Even if the region is moved into a lower tier later this month, businesses will still miss out on vital pre-Christmas trade, he said.

"The period leading up to Christmas is the one that restaurants look forward to," said Islam. "If we're allowed to reopen on the 17th we've got a handful of days that we can operate and we can't really prepare… it's not like turning a tap on and off, we've got to speak to our suppliers."

O'Hare added that reopening on short notice was simply not feasible for many restaurants.

He said: "That's ok if you're a McDonald's and can flip a switch and reopen, but not for a destination restaurant. 80% of our clientele travel from out of town, so they need time to book trains and hotels."

Islam plans to continue his home delivery service throughout December, but added that it was "no substitute for the restaurants, by any stretch of the imagination".

Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, said: "We still have not seen any evidence that hospitality venues – which have invested great time effort and money to making their spaces COVID-secure – are a problem area in terms of infection, so it seems unfair and arbitrary that hospitality is being dealt such a harsh hand."

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