Welsh hospitality businesses have welcomed the reopening for outdoor service today and an indicative date for indoor reopening of 17 May but have said further funding cannot wait until after the election for those still unable to reopen.
The Celtic Manor Resort (pictured) served 111 diners for lunch today across three alfresco dining venues and was expecting to serve more than 200 more for dinner. Later this week, it will open a pop-up derived from its Steak on Six restaurant, ‘Steak on the Rooftop'.
Resort head of food and beverage James Hayward said: "We were a little bit concerned this morning when we realised it was a bit chilly in spite of the sunshine, but everyone has been really excited to be back dining with us. Our team have been really looking forward to welcoming back our guests, having put in a lot of hard work over the last few weeks to extend and improve our covered outdoor dining areas at the Olive Tree Terrace, the Grill Terrace and Rafters Mezzanine.
"We are also really excited to be launching the new Steak on the Rooftop experience and this has really taken off. It was originally going to be weekends only but we've already sold out on both Friday and Saturday, so we're opening up on Wednesday instead and that's almost fully booked, as well. It's great to see such an enthusiastic response to dining out again. The hotel has been open since 27 March with our enhanced ‘restaurant in your room service' but this is what we have all missed – feeling the buzz of the restaurant again."
Suki Kullar, director of Rasoi Waterfront in Swansea, which reopened at midday today for lunch, said: "It's been good so far, the weather's held as well. For the rest of the week we're really busy and nearly fully booked."
He also said guidance had been clear from Swansea Council from the reopening and that, so far, the restaurant had seen zero no-shows since it started booking confirmation checks.
Tommy Heaney, meanwhile, said the Tent at Uisce outside his Cardiff restaurant was fully booked for the next month from its launch tomorrow.
"It's definitely a better response than what we had before with the previous firebreak lockdown, I think this is due to guests feeling more reassured, the weather, and people just wanting to get out," he said.
However, financial support for Wales' hospitality sector was originally only intended to cover the period until 31 March with further support not expected to be confirmed until after the election on 6 May.
The Welsh Independent Restaurant Collective (WIRC) has called on all political parties to agree a specific funding package without delay and begin the process of getting money to businesses with immediate effect. In a letter addressed to each of the main party leaders in Wales, the WIRC and Welsh Beer and Pub Association have issued a "desperate plea" for a restart grant in Wales like those being distributed in England and Scotland.
"The situation is urgent and cannot wait until we have a new government in Wales," said Simon Wright, owner of Wright's Food Emporium in Llanarthne, Camarthenshire, on behalf of the WIRC. "Our belief is that it is the responsibility of the current administration to make this happen and they need to act without delay."
He added: "We also need to see the detail on indoor opening rules published as swiftly as possible, so that businesses can begin to make concrete plans."
The group surveyed its members last week and of 103 respondents, just 48% said they would be reopening outside. Of those, 52% said they expected to achieve a maximum of 30% of normal turnover. Some 89% said they expected to turnover a maximum of 50%.
"Many of us do not have outside space and will be unable to operate until indoor hospitality is once again allowed," said Natalie Isaac, director of Bar 44 Group. "Viability is a huge concern with the Welsh weather being an unpredictable deciding factor on opening each day for the next couple of weeks."
Chris Harrod, chef-patron of the Michelin-starred Whitebrook in Monmouthshire, has also been unable to open outdoors this week as the restaurant's terrace has no weather protection or heaters, and would only fit four or five tables with social distancing in place.
"When we added it all up it just didn't seem viable," he told The Caterer.
Nor has he been able to access sector-specific grants and estimates he has missed out on around £15,000 due to a technicality. While the restaurant previously had 13-14 members of staff, some left over the last year while the restaurant has been closed, taking his business under the required number of 10 members of staff in order to access support, even though he has three people lined up to join the business for the reopening.
And as it was previously announced that Wales would not be reviewing the reopening of indoor dining until 17 May with a view to reopening in time for the spring bank holiday at the end of the month, Harrod had started to cancel and rearrange bookings for the in between period – until it was announced last week that Wales may join England in reopening indoor hospitality on 17 May. He estimates he lost around 20-30% of those bookings.
Thankfully, Harrod and his team have been doing 100-150 orders a week for the restaurant's ‘dine at home' service which kept the business "ticking over" and from his planned reopening date on 20 May, he said the venue was fully booked into September.
"Luckily we've been able to weather the storm, but there are so many micro-businesses in Wales that haven't," he said.
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