The new ‘three-tier’ system announced on Monday for a new wave of local lockdown measures that will affect the hospitality industry separates areas of the country into three different categories of coronavirus hotspots. As of Wednesday 14 October, areas with the highest levels of infection will have to close pubs, gyms and casinos in order to stop the spread of the virus.
Though the new measures will allow restaurants (and pubs that can operate as a restaurant) to continue operating in ‘very high’/tier three areas, many business owners argue that consumer confidence has been lost and the industry has been left in a limbo similar to March: restaurants that can open cannot seek financial support, yet additional rules deter diners from visiting.
“It’s a really scary time for us,” says Dave Critchley, head chef of Lu Ban in Liverpool, which has been placed in the ‘very high’ category. “We’ve been getting snippets of information all weekend, press releases and rumours of forced closures, and these have been no help whatsoever. We haven’t been able to plan; the rota for the week was written this morning; I didn’t know whether to order stock for the next few weeks. We’ve been left completely in the dark.”
Paul Askew, head executive chef of The Art School in Liverpool, is similarly frustrated with the lack of clarity. “It’s very hard to know what to do," he explains. "How can you plan for the next one, two or three weeks with rumours of another lockdown circulating? And that’s exactly the same for our guests, who will be debating whether to book a table or not. It creates bedlam.
“It feels ten times worse this time around. We opened on July 4 with a real sense of excitement; that euphoria of getting a little piece of normal life back. But September came around and cases started rising once more – here, and in every other university town. It’s pretty obvious what’s going on, and yet it’s our industry that suffers.”
Many feel the hospitality industry is once again being unduly targeted without scientific evidence to back up such measures. “If a four-week lockdown is going to help stop the spread of the virus in Manchester then we’re all for it," says Jamie Scahill, co-founder of Manchester Union Brewery. "But the Government hasn't put forward any scientific evidence to support this. Only three per cent of infections have been attributed to the night-time industry so it feels like we are being targeted unjustly. Most infections in Manchester are within the student population.”
If Manchester – currently in the ‘high’ category – is placed in the top tier ('very high'), Scahill’s business will lose 90 per cent of its trade to bars and pubs around the city, but since the brewery will not be forced to close under the measures, he won’t be able to seek financial support. “We do have some income from direct consumer trade, but this won’t be enough for us to survive the next six months.”
“There are many regional leaders, across the full spectrum of the hospitality industry, who are constantly delivering evidence-based advice which has largely fallen on deaf ears within Government,” says Liam Manton, co-founder of Alderman’s Drinks, which produces Didsbury Gin and ARLU Rum. Like Scahill, the majority of his trade comes from the night-time industry. His sales are already down £1 million on the same period last year.
"Hospitality venues across the country have spent thousands of pounds installing health and safety measures to keep our guests and staff safe,” says Jean-Baptise Reqiuen, operations director of restaurant group D&D Manchester. “As advised by the Government, industry bodies and safety consultants, we have provided a safe environment for guests to join us and followed all guidelines since reopening on July 4. It is extremely frustrating that hospitality is being punished further when we have already lost covers because of the one household rule and the 10pm curfew."
Government grants will be on offer to businesses that are forced to close, enabling them to pay their staff two thirds of their wage while they remain closed. However, some business owners say that this does not go far enough.
“A grant that gives two thirds of someone’s wage barely touches the surface in terms of covering costs,” says Will Lees-Jones, managing director of JW Lees pubs, which operate throughout the North West of England and Wales. “Where is the help to cover the cost of rent, national insurance, bills to suppliers?” Lees-Jones is supporting Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham, who is calling for a fair localised furlough scheme to be put in place for areas categorised within the highest tier.
Quite apart from the financial implications of the system, the new measures are a catastrophic blow to the morale of business owners and employees. “I can see this having a huge impact on the mental health of the mass of people who will be made jobless as a result,” says Manton.
“Every time we shut and reopen, it takes a huge amount of energy and money. I doubt businesses will have the same support to get back on their feet that they did the first time around,” says Askew. “At the moment, all I can see is redundancies.”