With Christmas already a wash out and rumours of further restrictions in the pipeline, the Morning Advertiser asked it’s MA Leaders group whether they would rather face a shut down over only being allowed to trade outdoors post Christmas.
The poll revealed a resounding 94% would rather be shut down, with only 6% saying they’d prefer to be able to trade even if it was only outside. The MA Leaders group is formed of the UK’s top multiple pub and bar operators.
Industry veteran and operator of the award winning Cheshire Cat Pubs and Bars, Tim Bird said: “I simply feel that this government has no real understanding of our business at all. They cannot have. Next week is our busiest week of the year in our pubs, under normal circumstances.
“To try and switch the business to ‘outdoors only’ in between Christmas and New Year in Baltic temperatures is simply impossible. We will lose the best part of a quarter of a million pounds in revenue and still have to pay the teams and waste a lot of stock AGAIN.
“If this government needs to restrict the hospitality business again, then do so by closing us entirely for whatever period they need to get the NHS to cope with absenteeism from Covid and the ‘swelling’ hospitals. Furlough our teams and issue grants that are realistic to our losses. Then drop VAT back on Food and Rooms to the original 5% (which shouldn’t have changed prematurely in the first place) and give us a strong road to recovery.”
Not viable in January
Tom McManus, of McManus Pubs, said: “Outside only was tricky enough in Spring, there’s no way it is viable for most sites In January.
"The allure of a pub in Jan is its warm and cosy, it will be very difficult to persuade people to come and eat/drink outside in the cold when it’s often hard to get them inside in Jan!
"On top of this are staff health and safety concerns plus, with no furlough, how do we support and give hours to all staff when trade will be widely destroyed by outside only restrictions?”
Cameron’s boss Chris Soley added: “Going into Tier 2 last time from being fully locked down meant an upward curve and people wanting to come back out and socialise (as well as the obvious summer month benefits). Heading down the curve from fully open to outside only, the consumer sentiment will be very different (as well as the winter weather). Outside only for the majority of pubs is completely unviable. Better to have full grant, furlough (and a bit of a sympathetic landlord wouldn’t go amiss).”
Pontius Pilot washing his hands
Tim Tomlinson, who operates three sites in Lancaster, expressed concerns for the future: “Opening outside isn’t viable for anyone really. I can seat 200 outside one venue and have new heaters installed but I just can’t see it being worth while until spring at the earliest. Equally, table service or one household type rules are window dressing which actually make it harder for us. Most businesses I speak to are of the opinion to either let us trade properly or close us fully and support us.
“What I fear the worst-case scenario would be for us commercially, is if pandemic-wise things get no worse but no better, then the government keeps on the same tack as present; namely no official restrictions, but lots of advice to minimise social activity.
“This on the back of a poor December would make January a disaster. Sales would be unbearably low, all our overheads would be in play, staffing would be impossible so it would almost certainly lead to large scale redundancies.
“It would get very bad very quickly, but from a political point of view Boris and Rishi appease their back benchers in terms of no restrictions and they can tell the sector that we are able to trade. I fear this is one of the three much whispered options on the table.
“In effect it swaps Rishi from being one of the three wise men bearing gifts on winter solstice to Boris being Pontius Pilot washing his hands of all responsibility for our sector. And if this did happen then certainly a lot of our businesses wouldn’t see it to Easter.”