Anger, confusion and dismay: sector reacts to curfew rules

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Hospitality curfew rules reaction restaurant pubs and bars

Related tags Curfew D&d london Des Gunewardena The Pig Robin Hutson The Stafford Collection

The hospitality industry has reacted with a mixture of anger, confusion and dismay to the curfew that comes into effect tomorrow (Thursday 24 September) alongside other restrictions intended to slow the spread of Coronavirus.

Restaurants, pubs and bars must close by 10pm and all licensed premises must offer table service only​(unlicensed venues - such as fast food restaurants - don’t have to offer table service but customers must sit down to eat).

D&D London CEO and co-founder Des Gunewardena said the curfew would be extremely damaging to his business and that it was difficult to understand the logic behind the Government's decision to roll it out nationwide.

“Public Health England’s own statistics clearly indicate that the recent significant increase in Covid infections is in care homes, schools and workplaces. It is not in pubs and restaurants," he says. "In fact, less than 5% of infections are taking place in pubs and restaurants."

"And Pubic Health England is also reporting that yes Covid infections are rising in the North East and North West of England, but they are apparently not rising in London and the South East. So why impose a curfew?”

Taking to Twitter, The Pig Hotel co-founder Robin Hutson said that well-managed hospitality was not the problem, pointing out that his eight-strong hotel group had served 250,000 guests since reopening in July without any issues.

A "baffling" decision 

Stuart Procter, the COO of London’s The Stafford Collection, says he is baffled by the Government’s decision to spend £522m on the Eat Out To Help Out scheme to encourage the British public to eat out as much as possible only to re-brand hospitality as “enemy number one”.

“Thanks to the scheme, we’ve taken staff off furlough to cope with the demand. What do we do with them now? Once again we’ve seen a huge change of strategy and it’s going to kill off so much of the hospitality industry when we’re proven to be some of the safest businesses in the UK thanks to our new distancing, cleaning and internal tracing measures.”

He said that 19% of reservations for dinner at The Stafford Collection, which includes The Stafford hotel in St James’s and Charlotte Street’s Norma, are made post 9pm, not including walk-ins and hotel guests in the bar.

“This is a huge chunk of business which will now disappear for no good reason, does the virus only come out post 10pm? As an industry, we had just started to claw our way back from a catastrophic start to 2020, but this will be the nail in the coffin for so many in the hospitality and tourism sector.”

Safe spaces

High profile chef Tom Aikens argues that well-run restaurants are safe spaces and that forcing them to close an hour early would have no impact on the spread of the virus.

"My whole team and I wear masks all the time. We only seat 23 covers, we pride ourselves on safety at all times and giving the very best service that’s not rushed or forced," he says. "One less hour will dramatically effect my business and many many others.”

Matt Gillian has a similar stance, pointing out that his West Sussex restaurant Heritage had worked hard to re-open in as safe a manner a possible with reduced capacity and staggered arrival times to ensure staggered departure times.

“The opportunity for the extra cheese board or post dinner drinks has evaporated at a time when we’re still in recovery mode,” says Gillian, who is now faced with either further reducing capacity or packing more people in at one time.

“We’re in the middle of the countryside, where our guests are respectful, considerate and understanding of the situation even after a couple of glasses of wine. And we’ve been lumped into the same bracket as a city centre Wetherspoons. I just don’t get it.”

Mark Birchall, chef-patron at Moor Hall in Lancashire, describes the new rules as disproportionate and says they go counter to what the restaurant has been doing in terms of increasing customer safety.

At its reduced capacity Moor Hall was doing around 50 covers an evening spread between 6.30pm and 9.30pm sittings, with a mealtime of anything up to three and a half hours. Under the new rules he will have to move everybody to 6pm and 7pm slots and speed up the service.

“Having to turn tables more quickly goes against everything we have been working to, which is a slow steady space to make them feel safe,” he says. “We will adapt and make it work and still offer customers a wonderful experience, but it feels very unnecessary."

“I can’t believe the Government can’t distinguish between different establishments. Restaurants should be put in a different bracket [to other parts of hospitality], especially those not turning tables.”

Since the lifting of lockdown , Moor Hall and its The Barn restaurant have served more than 7,500 guests without one incident of Coronavirus being reported, says Birchall.

“People have said they feel safer and secure in the restaurant than they do outside. Places that are not Covid secure are the ones that need to be punished. Why are we being tarred with the same brush?”

Jake Kasumov, co-founder of London’s Casa do Frango, believes it is counter-intuitive to pack more customers into reduced operational hours, to then all leave at the same time, creating congestion on public transport.

“We are disappointed with the government’s decision to implement a nationwide curfew. It’s especially frustrating as there appears to be little empirical evidence to support the notion that hospitality venues are responsible for the increasing number of Covid cases.”

Casa do Frango - which operates a brace of piri-piri chicken restaurants in central London - has contacted customers with late bookings and moved them to an earlier time slot. The response has so far been “positive and supportive” but there is a “significant level of bewilderment and confusion concerning the government’s actions from both customers and employees”.

Glass half empty situation 

The curfew is even more devastating to late night bars, which typically make the majority of their revenue between 8pm and 2am.

The Umbrella Project boss Andy Kerr expects having to close at 10pm to have a “dramatic” impact on The Sun Tavern and Discount Suit Company (both in East London).

“The issue with the 10pm curfew is that it won’t stop people going out and it won’t stop the virus (it simply doesn’t stop spreading after 10pm), however it’s kicking an industry which has already suffered dramatically even further to its knees,” he says.

“The government launched the Eat out to Help out scheme to encourage people to go out, and now have gone back on their word to support our industry, bars in particular where people will visit after their evening meals.”

“Not only is it effecting business owners but their staff too due to hourly wages being cut and many people supplementing their wages with tips from late night drinkers. Many people within the hospitality industry have already lost their jobs and many more will do so now the curfew has come into play - this will be the nail in the coffin for many independent venues.”

Tayēr + Elementary co-owner Monica Berg has written to her MP - Islington’s Emily Thornberry - describing the curfew as a “death sentence” for wet sales-led venues. “Since safely re-opening on Old Street, we have been making 50% like-forlikes sales compared to last year - and this is about to drastically change for the worst,” the letter reads.

Wedding woes

There was bad news for hospitality businesses that host and support weddings too, with the maximum number of people dropping from 30 to 15.

“The new restrictions on the events industry are simply devastating, having lost more than 75% of my workforce already this will only lead to more redundancies,” says The Social Pantry founder Alex Head. ”As an events company we have lost nearly all the little business we had with the six person restrictions and with weddings limited to 15 guests.

“The government simply cannot enforce restrictions without providing a support package for catering companies. The landlords need to start supporting, how can we continue to pay 100% of our rent with almost 0% income. Where retail sites have received grants, the events industry has received nothing and it will only lead to companies not surviving this next wave.”

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