Christian Townsley, who runs North Bar/North Brewing Co with fellow director John Gyngell, told The Morning Advertiser how consumers are behaving in the city, with local lockdown measures in place.
“It just keeps you on your toes, constantly worried," Townsley said. "Everything the Government has done is shambolic.
“Customer confidence is down a little, there’s a sense of nervousness. People are a little bit freaked out and we are seeing the effects.
“We have worked really hard to put measures in place that keeps our sites safe for customers and staff and there’s no way I would have reopened if I didn’t think we could have done that. That has been the priority.
“We have done that and still feedback from some 5% of customers who are not comfortable with measures in place. It’s all a worry.”
Townsley also outlined how the highs and lows of the lockdown and reopening periods have impacted business.
“From a business perspective, the past six months has been a proper rollercoaster," he said. "From feeling the business is under real serious threat to weathering a bit of a storm and feeling quite confident and then they introduce measures like the curfew and you go back to feeling threat level high.
“What gives us a huge amount of comfort and confidence is we have spent 20 odd years working on table service in a bar and a lot of venues haven’t. I feel for that because they are having to learn it and not staffing for it. We have always done that and that gives us a chance that we will get through it."
North Bar/North Brewing Co sites:
North Bar, Leeds
Further North, Chapel Allerton, Leeds
Alfred, Meanwood, Leeds
Preston, Oakwood, Leeds
North Bar Social, Otley, Leeds
North Bar Harrogate, Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Leeds City Tap, Leeds
Brewery Tap, Sheepscar, Leeds
Townsley added: “We made six redundancies, out of about 100 staff. [We were] 26% down (on sales) this weekend (Friday 25, Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 September), compared where we were expecting. Prior to that , we were about 10 to 15% across the board.
“Before all this [the new restrictions], the trade had dropped a bit. People are confused, nobody knows what they are doing and like ‘do you have to book’, no one knows what they are doing. Consumer confidence and consumer confusion. It’s not their fault.”
However, Townsley voiced his concern about other venues in the wider hospitality trade and what he wants to Government to do, to help the industry.
“So many places are going to disappear," he said. "I’d go so far as to say the food led pubs will be OK or be a hell of a lot better equipped than wet-led pubs.
“[The Job Support Scheme] JSS is a shambles. It costs employers more per hour for staff and taking less per hour in sale and revenue, it’s totally non-nonsensical.
“The VAT relief should have been extended to wet-led premises as well. We are pretty fortunate that we don’t have a business reliant upon big Christmas parties.
“For those people that VAT relief is, what’s it going to do? Too little, too late. So many people are going to disappear in the next three to six months.”
What are the lockdown measures in Leeds?
In Leeds, it is illegal to:
- Have guests in your home or garden
- Go to someone else's home or garden (in or outside of Leeds)
The Government has also advised against:
- Meeting anyone you do not live with in outside public places, like parks
- Meeting with people you do not live with in a pub, cafe, restaurant or other public venue (in or outside of Leeds)
- Visiting friends or family in care homes
When it comes to the curfew, Townsley has echoed comments of others in the trade, calling for it to be scrapped.
“I’d want rid of the curfew all together," he said. "To have customers in an environment where they are supervised and controlled.
“We know who is in our bar, we know we can record who is there, keep them socially distanced, table service, some of the measures they have brought in, masks going to the toilet but to then say, you are taking people out of a supervised environment and sending them to an unsupervised one. If you are going to implement a curfew scenario then don’t let people mix in their house.
“For the Government to stop advising the public to not go to pubs, bars and restaurants. It rocks consumer confidence. Make it black and white, give us more guidance.
“I would like them, before they make these grand announcements like 10pm curfew, please give us some notice, consult with our industry and have a support plan announced to us before you make the grand announcement or at least the time.
“Not give us a couple of days to s**t ourselves, not have a clue what we are going to do or how sustainable our businesses are. [There also needs to be] more pressure on the banks to support the landlords so they can support their tenants. We have had some really good experiences with landlords with this and some absolute s**t experiences but if the landlords had the comfort the banks would support them and they pass that on, the Government has the power to change that and it’s frustrating they don’t.”
Looking ahead, Townsley outlined how he, fellow director John Gyngell and their teams are planning to continue weathering the storm.
“We are just remaining adaptable," he said. "That was a saviour through the first lockdown. Our teams adapted, shifted very quickly and we will do that.
“With the brewery side of things, home deliveries and web shop sales went up significantly so we will focus our efforts.
“We are even having to deal with the self-isolation situation. Half of our staff are probably going to have to self-isolate over the next 6 months and at what point to you cut off the sick pay?”
“We are expanding the brewery and about six weeks ago, we were looking at another site before pausing and then Rishi made his announcement so at the minute it’s hard to make any long-term plans because of the level of uncertainty.
“But right now, it is about making sure our team is alright.”