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Operators hit by 'significant' cancellations as tighter restrictions cause customer confusion

10 September 2020 by

Restaurant and pub operators have been hit by cancellations and general confusion following the government's new 'rule of six' cap on table and social groups confirmed yesterday.

From Monday, people will be banned from meeting socially in groups of more than six indoors or outdoors, including in pubs, restaurants and cafés, prime minister Boris Johnson announced yesterday.

Richard Johns, who runs the Hovingham Inn in Yorkshire, said that even before the leaked announcement had been confirmed, "the phone started ringing" with guests cancelling bookings. He told The Caterer: "We suffered significant cancellations for sixes and all sorts – our week has gone now from being robust to being pretty crap really.

"People reacted before having any official notification. From an operator's point of view, it's so difficult to plan anything for the short-term, let alone the long-term. If we lose customer confidence again, where will this end?"

Johns said that yesterday 19 covers booked for this week were cancelled and 12 for next week. He added: "It's a big hit to take – I'm hoping this might be temporary and it might turn back".

He blamed the government's "mixed signals" and "muddled" messaging for creating unnecessarily panic and nervousness in an industry that has only recently started to recover.

Elsewhere operators reported booking lines falling silent for a period after the announcement. Stosie Madi, chef-patron of Parkers Arms Country Inn in the village of Newton-in-Bowland near Clitheroe in Lancashire, said their booking lines "went dead" for a "good two-and-a-half hours" after Johnson announced the new rule. During such a period she said it would have been normal to have taken around 60 reservations.

She told The Caterer: "There is no doubt that the statement he made yesterday will affect businesses."

Madi believes that when messaging is "quite vague, random and not very clear people will just stop in", rather than risk going out to eat and drink.

In addition to bookings taking a nose-dive, she was "bombarded with emails" from confused guests, asking whether they were still allowed come.

Similarly Liverpool-based operator Maray, with sites in Albert Dock, Bold Street and Allerton Rd, commented on Twitter that their bookings had taken a hit yesterday: "Someone's put a balloon in it. Hopefully just short-term".

In an interview with BBC Breakfast this morning UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls spoke of the "damage" that the new guidelines might cause to consumer confidence, adding that hospitality businesses only been at break-even point by the end of August's Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

She added: "Confidence was fragile among consumers and businesses and this is a real knock as to what it might mean to consumer behaviour."

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