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Lockdown confusion knocks consumer confidence in Manchester

03 August 2020 by

Manchester's latest lockdown rules, which ban people from different households mixing indoors, caused confusion among customers this weekend and saw restaurant tables cancelled.

The government's latest restrictions for Manchester, parts of Lancashire and West Yorkshire were announced on Thursday evening via health secretary Matt Hancock's Twitter account, following an increasing rate of virus transmission in parts of northern England and came into force just hours later at midnight.

Will Beckett co-founder of Hawksmoor told The Caterer: "We want to use this as a test case, and we learned that it can happen at the last minute. The key for us was not to panic but then to over-communicate with staff and customers when we had clarity."

Beckett said that 75% of reservations at Hawksmoor were for tables of two and that their Manchester venue on Deansgate saw just 10% of bookings cancelled over the weekend, as a result of the new restrictions preventing those from different households dining together.

"A lot of people did panic and were rightly upset. It was the impact it had on people that created confusion and concern with customers and venues. It's another knock to consumer confidence," he added.

Elsewhere, the impact was more dramatic. Simon Wood of Wood Manchester told The Caterer that trade on Friday was "all right" but they took "quite a hit" on Saturday with more than a third of bookings cancelled.

"We found a lot of [tables of] four going to two. When you have a high average spend, as we have, when we lost 25 covers, that's the wages. It's the difference between profit and loss."

As for bringing in the new rules overnight, Wood added that people needed to be tolerant, as the government was "dealing with something they've never dealt with before" but equally they "should think before opening their mouths".

He explained: "For some people their confidence has been knocked – they're not clear on the guidelines. We're in a revised lockdown period but everywhere is still open. I can't go to my mum's but I can go to the pub – it doesn't make any sense."

Gareth Raines, general manager of Grub, Manchester's biggest street food event, said the announcement had been "a bit chaotic" and that they had had a lot of cancellations, despite operating mostly outside. He explained: "People are worried in general and trying to follow the guidelines as they understand them."

Last night (Sunday) a major incident was declared in greater Manchester, in response to the increase in Covid-19 cases. The change has not seen any further restrictions introduced and police said it was brought in to allow agencies to work more effectively together and access further resources.

Manchester City Council added that people should "not be alarmed", describing the move as "standard practice".

Beckett had highlighted the difficulties smaller operators faced with last-minute changes saying while his business was large enough to "handle a bit of chaos" it was "not reasonable" to expect smaller one- or two- person operations to mobilise that quickly.

Operators in Manchester will be hoping a further tightening of restrictions will not follow and that they are able to utilise the government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme throughout August.

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