Some hospitality businesses in England have said they will continue to ask guests and staff to wear masks indoors, even after the legal requirement to do so is potentially dropped on 19 July.
Prime minister Boris Johnson earlier this week announced that when England moves to step 4 of easing lockdown restrictions, which is currently pencilled in for 19 July but will not be confirmed until next Monday, all restrictions will be eased including face coverings and social distancing.
But some business owners have said they feel the move comes to soon, with rising numbers of coronavirus cases still being reported.
"I'm glad that those people who work in the nightclub industry are able to open up again, big events and the like – there are some positive notes there. But I really fear we're opening too soon while a large proportion of the population still aren't fully vaccinated," said Tony Rodd, owner of Copper & Ink in Blackheath, south London.
He told The Caterer that the restaurant will keep screens between tables or keep tables socially distanced, while guests and staff will be asked to continue wearing masks indoors. He said the financial implications of having fewer tables, which knocks out about 16-20 of his covers, is something he is willing to shoulder.
"It does affect us financially and there are higher costs of running at the moment, with more staff, more cleaning costs, things like that. We'd rather be open and open safely than closed or open and operating at a risk," he said, explaining that repeated short lockdowns hit his business harder due to the loss of stock, which has seen up to £6,000 worth of food and drink go to waste every time the business has had to close.
He is concerned that guests may now be more resistant once it is no longer law. "I think that is going to be a challenge," he said.
"Obviously there are some guests that will flat-out refuse to. What we don't want to do is cause any aggression or animosity between the guests and the staff… But I think the reality is a lot of our guests are very respectful of one another and understand they're doing it for other people, not themselves."
He added: "We're just really going to keep an eye on things until we see that the numbers are dropping and we feel it's safe to start relaxing ourselves."
Victor Garvey, chef-patron of Michelin-starred Sola restaurant in London's Soho, has also said he will be asking guests and staff to continue wearing masks and is similarly concerned about another lockdown later in the year.
"We seem to have struck a decent balance," he said. "If we just stuck with what we were doing for a little bit longer we might have had a chance to beat this. I do really feel like we're heading towards another lockdown in September or October now."
Garvey was less concerned about staff abuse due to being a fine dining establishment, however: "I really don't think people are going to have a problem with it. Do you really think somebody's going to storm out of a Michelin-starred restaurant that they booked two months in advance because they have to wear a mask to go to the bathroom?
"We're very busy, we're doing well… if I have to lose one or two customers that are too stubborn to put on a mask, so be it. It's in the interests of the business to keep the staff and the majority of the customers as safe as possible. If somebody outright refuses to wear it, we'll ask that they'll go dine somewhere else."
Meanwhile, Clive Watson, chair of the City Pub Group, which has 45 pubs across the south of England and Wales, told the BBC's Today programme he would also be encouraging staff to continue to wear masks and operate table service across the business to avoid a "free for all scrum at the bar".
He said: "We're not going to say you cannot order at the bar, but we're going to make it as easy as possible to continue to order, whether it's through our City Club app or at table. So we're not going to be militant about it, but we're really not going to encourage people to order at bar. Staff will be encouraged to say to customers as they come to the bar, ‘no, order through the app, or order at table, that way you'll get quicker service, it'll be easier service and it will be safer service'."
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