‘It’s clear no one in Government has ever worked in hospitality’

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Trade thoughts: operators have expressed their frustrations about being forced to close from Thursday 5 November until December
Trade thoughts: operators have expressed their frustrations about being forced to close from Thursday 5 November until December

Related tags: Legislation, Leeds, Kent, Suffolk, Hampshire

Licensees have told The Morning Advertiser (MA) of their frustrations about the Government ordering pubs to close as part of the national lockdown again.

Operators voiced their extreme disappointment in restrictions despite the low transmission rate from hospitality, the Covid-secure guidelines adhered to and concerns closure may be extended.

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Licensee of the Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, Suffolk, Brendan Padfield told The MA​: “Am I honestly surprised? No.

“Am I hugely disappointed? Yes, because I wish I had faith there was clear direction of travel that they have faith this is going to do the trick and yet within 24 hours you have Gove saying we might have to extend it.

“It kind of smacks of what is going on elsewhere in Europe. What worries me is we have a buffoon of a Prime Minister who appears to lack a sense of direction he couldn’t even turn up to his press conference. I’m worried it might not just be four weeks.

“There’s a depressed resignation, we have been battered on several fronts, first closure then curfew now this.”

Padfield outlined his concerns for reopening when it comes to a definitive date and the lack of clarity around this.

“I don’t know what the alternative is, we will have to grin and bear it," he added. "If it limited to four to six weeks, we might be able to get through it.

“What concerns me is after that. This industry has made herculean efforts, its adapted, reinvented, all the huge anti Covid steps we have taken, which were successful in the lack of hospitality Covid infections.

“We are one of the least culpable sectors in terms of spread yet keeping schools open. For some, this will be a bridge too far.

“Resignation, depression the direction of travel sems unclear and there’s too much making it up on the hoof.”

However, Padfield remained optimistic about life after lockdown, with the hope customers will flock back to the pub.

“In a truly dreadful situation I am grateful for furlough scheme," he added. "Providing shutdown isn’t prolonger furlough will make a real difference and allow me to sustain jobs (even though it isn’t as generous as the beginning).

“However tough it is, the bounce back will be as good as it was after the first lockdown.”

Reopening prediction

These thoughts were also echoed by licensee of the Dog at Wingham in Kent, Marc Bridgen, who was also grateful for the furlough extension.

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“The fact staff are taken care of is the first box ticked," he said. "We have had the best four months we have ever had.

“The biggest thing is I now feel confident whenever we can reopen we will be very busy. Since the reopening in July, we have done record breaking visitor numbers, revenues, we have grown spend per head.

“I do feel confident whenever we reopen we will be very very busy. You can never make up the revenue, we never did of lockdown one but we have made up the margin.

“The owners are hit the hardest but team are going to be taken care of. However, hour by hour I feel less confident we are going to reopen on 2 December. But, if we do open on 2 December, we will have the best month we have ever had.”

The latest enforced closure has been labelled “frustrating” but multiple operator boss Martin Wolstencroft, who owns Arc Inspirations.

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Arc’s sites are based in and around Leeds, which was set to be placed into tier three prior to the full lockdown announcement.

“It’s so frustrating," Wolstencroft said. "We spent all time planning for tier three then we get the announcement of full lockdown. It’s the constant having to plan, evaluate, execute and change it all again.

“It’s tough having to constantly keep changing our business model to the latest Government guidelines.

“We are where we are now and we understand where we are with furlough and the grants, which is all well and good to try and help us through the next four weeks but we need certainty on days of reopening.”

December is a crucial month for hospitality, to help cover the quieter months, something Wolstencroft emphasised.

“All our businesses in hospitality rely on fantastic sales and profit in December to get us through on the leaner times, which is what we really do rely on," he explained.

“We need to maximise sales in that period. We need to know when we are allowed to open and that didn’t help when Gove said it might not be 2 December.”

Uncertainty is killing the confidence of industry and customers, the multiple operator highlighted and called for clarity on guidance for reopening.

Disastrous restrictions

“When we know when we can reopen, we need to know the conditions," Wolstencroft continued. “Will we be going into tier three? All but two of ours [sites] are in tier three. If we have to open in tier three with the 10pm curfew, [it] will be disastrous.

“The biggest thing is it causes uncertainty. Businesses gear themselves to reopen on 2 December, spending lots more money on Christmas decorations, retrain all staff, getting ready to open, buying loads of external facilities for outside, more heaters and then we get told we can’t open.

“That would be the most frustrating nightmare situation. We would lose all the December sales and profit. We would have invested even more money we don’t have in external facilities and time and labour and love and passion putting them all together.

“We want to open when they say we will open without a curfew so we can really focus on giving our customer a fantastic experience through the doors.”

Fellow Leeds-based operator Richard Fiddaman runs the Cross Keys and laid out the impact the tiered system had on the business.

“It’s frustrating because it’s not coming from hospitality," he said. "Keeping schools open, it’s not going change anything. The curfew killed us. Tier two kicked us even further.

“We were due to go into tier three but not now because of lockdown but no one was actually told.”

Fiddaman also called for decreased restrictions once reopening happens, to help boost trade at the end of the year.

“If at the end of this, if lockdown is a month and we come back out without curfew, restrictions lifted, brilliant tracing, even if a member of staff has suspected we can get them and everyone tested and back open again the next day, then I would support the lockdown," he told The MA​.

“If it means we can trade properly then that’s cool but there needs to be better support for the industry as a whole. Without any sports or events, people are not going to survive this.

“It’s great they’ve brought in the furlough, we qualify this time, but there’s no support to help us with rent.

“The curfew and this drives into supermarkets to buy to booze. I don’t know what the support level is for suppliers. There hasn’t been much mentioned on that.

“How are suppliers meant to stay open when there isn’t any money coming in because their customers aren’t trading? It is clear no one in Government has worked in hospitality.”

Mark and Penny Thornhill are the licensees of Inn on the Beach, in Hayling Island, Hampshire and have mixed feelings on the new lockdown.

“[We are] upset to be closing again as business was building nicely," Mark said. "We are on top of all cleaning (more than most shops, supermarkets etc).

“[But we are] incredibly relieved the furlough scheme has been extended for us and the team. We are hoping we can be open in December.”

Related topics: Legislation

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