Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce all pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality businesses will have to close at 10pm each day from Thursday 24 September. In addition, table service will be compulsory for venues in the sector.
The PM is expected make a further announcement on the new measures in the House of Commons today (Tuesday 22 September) before an address to the nation this evening.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “These restrictions will come as another crushing blow for many hospitality businesses struggling to recover so it’s crucial these new rules are applied with flexibility.
"A hard close time is bad for business and bad for controlling the virus - we need to allow time for people to disperse over a longer period. Table service has been widely adopted in some parts of the sector since reopening but it is not necessary across all businesses, such as coffee shops.
“It is hard to understand how these measures are the solution to fighting the disease when Government data shows that just 5% of infections out of the home are related to hospitality. Where such restrictions have been put in place locally they have not cut infection rates, merely damaged business and cost jobs."
On The Morning Advertiser’s Facebook page, operators had their say on the planned 10pm curfew and the impact it will have on their businesses.
Darren Kyrstie said: “I’m estimating a £10,000 loss every week with shorter hours now. Are the Government going to compensate us for the loss of trade?”
Andrew Dickerson said the new restrictions defied any form of logic and cited Public Health England statistics.
He added: “…the trade has only been directly connected to 4.6% of all cases.”
Alex Marshall outlined how this could mean people will be entering other places that won’t have restrictions in place.
He said: “The plan may backfire as people will leave a managed, Covid-secure environment for illicit house parties, which can’t be policed effectively.
“A blanket 10pm curfew would have some rationale if it reduced socialising and decreased the potential spread of Covid-19, whereas I can’t help feel this plan presents a ‘big idea’ that makes a good press release, but potentially makes the problems worse and less manageable.”
Heart-breaking for some
Di Belcher said: “Around a third of my trade is late drinkers. I live in a rural(ish) community [with] lots of farmers. At the moment, they are still at work at 10pm. This isn’t going to help us at all. We already cut out opening times.”
British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin said the industry recognised the need to continue to support the Government and local communities to manage the risk of rising infection rates.
She added: “We take our responsibilities in helping to curb the spread of Covid-19 incredibly seriously and pubs have adapted well to the "new normal" over the past few months and will continue to do so, creating safe environments for socialising.
“A curfew is particularly heart-breaking for those pubs in areas where infection rates remain under control. There seems to be little available evidence that pubs, with their strict adherence to Government guidelines, are unsafe, so we are unsure that this blanket measure will make a major difference.
“Make no mistake, a 10pm curfew will devastate our sector during an already challenging environment for pubs. Pubs were struggling to break even before today and these latest restrictions will push some to breaking point. Removing a key trading hour on top of fragile consumer confidence and the reduced capacity pubs already face will put thousands more pubs and jobs at risk.
“During the current circumstances every hour of trading it crucial to the survival of pubs – for many this curfew will render their businesses unviable."
Sector specific furlough
McClarkin said: “The Government now needs to act fast in putting together a comprehensive support package to ensure that thousands of pubs don't close their doors for good because of this curfew. We need an immediate sector specific furlough scheme to save the hundreds of thousands of jobs that pubs support, extended VAT cuts and business rates holiday and a substantial cut to the rate of beer duty in the Autumn Budget. Only a comprehensive support package like this will save thousands of pubs and many more pub jobs.”
Licensee of the Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, Suffolk, Brendan Padfield asked where the evidence was of the virus spreading in hospitality.
He said: “We have operated with table service throughout. We have assiduously taken track and trace details throughout. Our anti-Covid procedures have been second to none, to the point where some customers have even criticised them for being over the top.
“I have invested many thousands of pounds in making our customers safe. This curfew will reduce our income again, at a time when we were just beginning to rebuild.
“In truth, I breathed a might sigh of relief it was not wholesale closure of pubs and restaurants as I don’t think we could have come back from that, after the initial lockdown.
“It’s a bitter blow though. I struggle to understand the evidence to justify the decision nor, in truth, do I think a curfew will make a material difference.
“Ours is not to reason why though now and perhaps I should be grateful for big mercies – that we aren’t shut again.”
James and Bianca Rix from the Fox & Hounds in Hunsdon, Hertfordshire already close their pub at 10pm.
They said: “To be honest when we reopened, we reduced our opening hours (closing at 10pm) to limit customers hanging around after their meal anyway.
“It also reduces our staff costs and time that our staff are interacting with each other and customers too. We have put in lots of restrictions and procedures to make our venue as Covid-safe as we can.
“I do, however, feel that this is probably more aimed at pubs, bars and restaurants in towns and cities – with a younger crowd.
“The Government/ local councils should be doing more to check that all venues are complying with the guidelines/ laws as it is unfair that some venues are abiding by the guidelines and others are obviously not.
“This does unfairly point the finger at pubs and restaurants being unsafe – when in fact most venues are safer than being at home in a social environment due to the Covid-secure measures they have to put in place.
“It is very hard to know what the next few weeks and months have in store, and like with most businesses, although we understand there is no crystal ball it would be useful to know what further measures we will likely to be subject too if more restrictions are put on the hospitality sector. We could then plan ahead for the next step if this was necessary – rather than not know what is next.
“The priority should be to keep schools open more than anything else but there is no reason to have to close if all venues follows the guidelines/ restrictions.”
Night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester and operator Sacha Lord said he was desperately worried for the future of the nation’s night-time economy.
Path of confusion
He added: “This cat and mouse game of encouraging the sector to discount meals and tempt diners in, before blaming and punishing them for surges is not only harmful economically but mentally.
“I personally know of operators who are choosing to close down [rather] than continue on this path of confusion.
“If we really want to stop the infection spreading, these draconian restrictions are not the answer. Just 5% of outbreaks in England (in week 37) were caused by hospitality venues and this is testament to the measure they have strived to put in place.
“Closing pubs and bars earlier will only serve to encourage more house parties and outdoor gatherings, we have already seen this as students begin to return to cities across the UK and it’s unthinkable this has not been considered as an inevitable outcome of these curfews.
“We need mass testing, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, to determine where this virus is, combined with greater financial aid for operators so they can reduce capacities and maintain effective social distancing without putting their businesses and livelihoods at risk.
“Whole parts of our economy will sadly not come through this wave of restrictions without further help.
“In hospitality alone, there are 900,000 workers still on furlough an without a continuation of Government support, it is highly likely a significant majority of these individuals will not have jobs to return to.
“We need a confirmed action plan of how the Government will be support these businesses during this time. We knew this was coming and we knew furlough would end at the same time a second wave would hit.
“We have been calling for more support for months and there will be no excuse for a lack of preparation.
“I eagerly await details from the Prime Minister, of the financial support have been begging for and now, desperately need.”
The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) chief executive James Calder said the new measures will be a “marginal measure” in the best case scenario.
He added: “A new week and new rules for pubs who have diligently implemented guidance to make their venues Covid-secure without receiving further financial support.
“After a month of being encouraged to support the hospitality trade, the public is now being warned off. A 10pm curfew will be at best, a marginal measure in controlling the virus, but will impact directly on pubs, staff and breweries.
“Why fire a ‘warning shot’, which aims to encourage the UK public to take measures more seriously, that actually hits pubs and brewers with no further support planned?
“Many pubs have adapted to table service only, but in smaller, beer-led community pubs, they cannot afford the extra member of staff that table service requires so will be forced to shut.
“Existing measures have proven to work and this new rule should be enforced flexibly because its benefits will only be marginal. The virus is rising and the UK population do need to redouble efforts, but signalling this by placing new, marginally beneficial restrictions on struggling pubs and brewers is a mistake and will inevitably lead to more job losses.
“We need a comprehensive new package of measures including VAT cut extension to beer, rent support, business rates cuts and a cancellation of the planned rises in beer duty for small brewers.
“Warning shots aren’t meant to hit anyone but the UK’s pubs and brewers are wrongly in the firing line.”