Hospitality

Nightclubs and Bars May Sue the Government to Prevent Delay to Covid Restrictions

Following the news that the June 21st reopening is likely to be delayed by at least four weeks, reports have emerged that nightclubs and bars are considering suing the Government to prevent the extension of lockdown. The Guardian has the story.

The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) is understood to be weighing up legal action on behalf of venues such as nightclubs that have spent money to be ready to welcome guests after a year of enforced closure.

According to the trade body, 54% of businesses have ordered stock, 73% have called in staff and 60% have sold tickets.

Hospitality bosses said they were increasingly resigned to the prospect that rules such as social distancing and compulsory mask-wearing will not be relaxed, potentially until July.

“It was almost in touching distance and now feels like it’s slipping away,” said Chris Jowsey, the head of the 1,000-strong pub chain Admiral Taverns.

“We need people in the pubs to trade profitably. People might say it’s only a fortnight or four weeks, but [publicans] are hanging on by their fingertips.”

Many pubs and restaurants opened when restrictions eased in April and May under the first two stages of Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown. But nightclubs and smaller venues, where social distancing is impossible, have been shut for either six months or in many cases since the onset of the pandemic.

“If this gets pushed down the line, they’ve used their last cash resource to get to the point where they can open the doors,” said NTIA’s Chief Executive, Michael Kill. “They’ve committed money to preparing, to stocking, staff training. There’s talk about two weeks [delay], four weeks and the uncertainty is killing them.”

He said the anxiety was exacerbated by a lack of any solution to a looming rent crunch. A Government-imposed moratorium that prevents commercial landlords from demanding late rent payments comes to an end on July 1st.

“We’ve got people who have compromised themselves financially who don’t know if they’ll get out of debt,” said Kill. “The anxiety levels associated with commercial debt, which still doesn’t have a solution with two weeks left, is exceptional.”

Richard Nattriss, a nightclub owner who runs Raw in Whitby, North Yorkshire, said: “Our building is owned by a pension fund, like a lot of places, and there’s been no concession on rents. We’ve paid full rent through the entire thing and the grants haven’t covered that, so we’re desperate to open to get the cashflow.”

Nattriss said he had already spent money on stocking up, amid shortage of supply of some drinks, but did not believe nightclubs would be able to open until July 5th at the earliest.

“Even though they say the restrictions are lifting, we know in our heart of hearts they’re not going to do that,” he said.

Worth reading in full.

U.K. Pubs’ Turnover 20% Down on Pre-Lockdown Levels Due to Continuing Government Restrictions

The reopening of pubs indoors last month has been hampered by the continuation of Government restrictions on the hospitality sector, particularly social distancing, which has resulted in a 20% slump in trade compared with pre-lockdown levels. This fall has come in spite of the reopening of between 90-95% of pubs since May 17th, although the cost of a pint has increased in many pubs. The Guardian has the story.

Pub owners have warned that despite welcoming customers back indoors from May 17th, and a boom in table bookings for restaurants and bars, turnover in the first week of reopening was 20% lower than in the same week in 2019 because of Government restrictions and physical distancing measures.

The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), which carried out the survey of publicans representing 7,000 pubs across the country, said the Government’s rules to limit the spread of the coronavirus had continued to make the businesses “unviable”.

Drinks sales initially soared to almost double the pre-pandemic when pubs first opened for business again in April outdoors, according to industry data, but the pub industry has blamed physical distancing measures for the punters’ muted response to the reopening of indoor spaces.

Under the Government’s current rules, pubs are limited to providing table service to limited group sizes of up to six people and cannot allow punters to drink at the bar or standing. They are also required to keep people at least one metre apart and ensure face masks are worn at all times, except when outdoors or seated inside.

The BBPA has warned that unless restrictions are removed in line with the Government’s June 21st timeline, the average pub would need to sell more than 24,672 extra pints over a year to make up for their loss in turnover.

The pub association’s survey revealed that across the week of May 17th turnover was at 80% of the same period in 2019 despite 95% of U.K. pubs, or about 45,000 venues, reopening to trade. The association estimates that if trade continues to stay at 80% of normal, the average pub would lose £94,000 in turnover over a year.

Emma McClarkin, the Chief Executive of the BBPA, warned that turnover may even fall further if the early enthusiasm to return to the local pub begins to wane because of the coronavirus restrictions.

It is a big blow to the industry, therefore, that the Government is considering keeping social distancing guidelines in place after the June 21st “Freedom Day”.

Worth reading in full.

A Quarter of Britain’s Pubs and Restaurants Have Yet to Reopen

Despite the recent easing of restrictions for both outdoor and indoor hospitality, new research shows that almost a quarter of Britain’s licensed premises have yet to reopen. The partial reopening of the sector has been largely hampered by the continuation of social distancing guidelines. Nearly 7.5% of Britain’s pre-lockdown total of pubs and restaurants have already closed for good. The Caterer has more.

23.7% of Britain’s… licensed premises have yet to reopen despite the return of inside service, new Market Recovery Monitor research from CGA and AlixPartners reveals.

The snapshot data found just under 25,000 venues are still shut, with similar trading numbers in England (76.6%) and Scotland (77.4%), but a notably slower return in Wales (69.6%).

The Market Recovery Monitor showed slightly more pubs have reopened than restaurants. Around nine in 10 high street pubs (92.9%), food pubs (91.8%) and community pubs (89.6%) are back trading, alongside 89.2% of casual dining and other restaurants.

However, social distancing and restrictions in place still make it unviable for swathes of venues to open, and 45.2% of Britain’s sports and social clubs remain closed, alongside 50.9% of large venues and 27% of bars. 

More than 8,500 premises… have already closed for good.

Karl Chessell, CGA’s Director for Hospitality Operators and Food, EMEA, said: “The return of large parts of hospitality for indoor service was a landmark moment for consumers and businesses alike, but it is alarming to see that so many venues have still not been able to welcome guests. Many will have decided that restrictions and space constraints make opening unviable, while some sectors like late-night bars and nightclubs are still completely off limits.

“It will be an anxious wait to see how many of the venues that are holding on until the final easing of restrictions will be able to make it through. Sustained support is clearly going to be needed to save thousands of vulnerable businesses and jobs.”

The continued presence of a fear of Covid (“Covid Anxiety Syndrome“, as it has been labelled) means many people have struggled with returning to normal life. This will no doubt have created further difficulties for publicans and restaurateur hoping to maximise sales after many months of forced closure. Recent polling from Ipsos MORI shows that 14% of British adults aren’t looking forward to having dinner in a restaurant with friends and 18% aren’t looking forward to going to the pub.

The Caterer report is worth reading in full.

Pub Landlords Urge Government to End Furlough Because It Is Destroying Work Ethic

Landlords and restaurant owners have called on the Government to end the furlough scheme to help offset a recruitment crisis, saying that those on furlough would rather stay at home than come out and work. There are 188,000 job vacancies in hospitality where more than 250,000 workers remain on furlough. The Sun on Sunday has the story.

[Some owners] are so short-staffed, some have been offering £1,000 joining-up bonuses to coax back uncertain workers. 

They blame the £63 billion Government pay scheme, as would-be recruits prefer to stay home and take state cash.

The Sun on Sunday can reveal U.K.-wide there are 700,000 job vacancies, including 188,000 in hospitality alone where more than 250,000 remain on furlough.

The scheme does not stop until the end of September, amid uncertainty over the economy. 

But experts fear some have now lost the will to work. Professor Len Shackleton, from the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Furlough has been a great success but has gone on for far too long.

“We should wind it up and get back to reality. We should not be holding back new businesses which need workers in a vain attempt to keep old businesses alive.”

Furlough began in March last year to stop firms laying off staff, or collapsing, during lockdown. 

Some  11.5 million workers have been furloughed, with 4.2 million still on the handout at the end of March this year. It has helped keep unemployment at around five%.

A Treasury spokesman said: “Furlough means two million fewer people will have lost their jobs.  

“We went long with furlough to avoid a cliff edge and ensure as many jobs as possible are protected.”

But it is down to employers to stop the payouts, by ceasing to apply for the state to pay 80% of a worker’s wages. 

Meanwhile, trade body U.K. Hospitality says 15% of its workers, or around 270,000, are reluctant to come off furlough, over fears of another lockdown.

U.K. Hospitality’s Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said: “Furlough is still essential, helping to make sure jobs are protected over the summer.

“But it could be tightened up to ensure it is not masking problems in our economy and protecting jobs that are no longer there.

“Lots of people are trying to recruit and in some parts of the country there are vacancies that they cannot fill.” 

Worth reading in full.

Live Music Venues Beset by Regulations – and Not Just Ones Imposed by the Government

Audiences at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club won’t be dancing cheek to cheek anytime soon, with the famous London venue having introduced a raft of “Covid protocols” (some already required by the Government, others not), including mask-wearing, facial thermometers and protective screens. Here’s a list of new rules from their website.

  • Face coverings must be worn when entering and leaving the venue or anytime you are not seated. Staff will wear face coverings.
  • Upon entering the club there will be an optional sanitiser station and a facial thermometer which you will be asked to use;
  • All guests must scan the Track and Trace QR Poster on arrival at the club.
  • We have removed entrance furniture to ease congestion in and out of the venue;
  • We have increased our cleaning system using medical grade sanitiser on all surfaces;
  • We politely ask customers not to bring excessive baggage that needs to be checked into the cloakroom to ease congestion upon entering and leaving the club;
  • Increased hand washing of staff and staff health declarations;
  • We have gone cashless. Your PDQ machine will be cleaned between each use;
  • We have reduced capacity to 50% to allow for spacing between guests;
  • We have adapted our air conditioning system to ensure there is 100% fresh air being circulated in the club;
  • We have installed some protective screens in certain areas.

As if this wasn’t enough, the Club points out that these are “just a few” of the measures which it has introduced to ensure the safety of its staff, musicians and audience members. Incredibly, it says that this can all be done while “maintaining the atmosphere of the club”. Yeah, right!

If all (or most) live entertainment venues return to action in this manner, their post-lockdown recoveries could well be short-lived.

Boris Says He Wants to Scrap the “One-Metre Plus” Rule in Pubs on June 21st

Boris Johnson has told Conservative MPs that he would like to scrap the “one-metre plus” rule in hospitality settings when the last step of the “roadmap” out of lockdown is reached on June 21st. Doing so would help businesses damaged by lockdown to get back on their feet, the Prime Minister said. The MailOnline has the story.

The Prime Minister said eliminating the measure was the “single biggest difference” the Government could bring about in order to get Britain’s pubs back into action, and he was eager for the rule to be scrapped by June 21st…

As long as the rule is in force, pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and other hospitality businesses remain financially unviable, having to legally keep customers separated while using their premises, industry leaders have warned. 

Many have had to keep their doors closed throughout the coronavirus crisis. 

Britain’s daily Covid deaths have fallen by more than a third in a week as seven more victims and 2,874 positive tests were recorded. Yesterday’s infections were up slightly on the 2,657 last Thursday, a rise of about eight per cent, but the national case rate has remained stable since April.

More than 37 million people have now received one vaccine injection – the equivalent of more than 70% of all adults – and 21.2 million are fully inoculated.  

But the rise of the Indian Covid variant had sparked concerns that plans to end social distancing measures were in jeopardy, but on Wednesday Mr Johnson told the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs he was confident about abolishing the one-metre plus rule next month.  

He said: “We are hopeful we can do that at the end of the road map.” But Mr Johnson added that it depends on figures “continuing in the right direction”…

One MP who was at the 1922 meeting said: “[Boris] seemed very upbeat about removing the one-metre-plus rule next month.”

Worth reading in full.

Six Pubs Have Closed Every Week during Lockdowns

The reopening of indoor hospitality earlier this week came too late for many businesses as data reveals that six pubs have closed every week during Government-imposed lockdowns. Most have either been demolished or converted into homes and offices. The MailOnline has the story.

Figures released today showed 384 pubs have closed permanently during the national and tiered local restrictions over the past 14 months.

The number of locals is down by one per cent from 40,886 to 40,502, according to research by consultants Altus Group…

West Northamptonshire Council granted permission to turn The Romany in Kingsley, Northampton, into 11 flats after its closure during the first lockdown last year.

And The Majors Arms in Widnes, Cheshire, was sold last October, with its new owners requesting permission from Halton Council to turn it into a shop.

The Crobar in Soho, central London, previously said it would be unable to reopen after struggling to pay rent during the pandemic, but is now planning to resume business at a new venue after fundraising over £100,000. 

The study found more pubs were lost in the South East than other parts of the U.K., with 62 demolished or converted for alternative use during the pandemic.

The West Midlands, Wales, North West and East of England each saw more than 40 pubs closed during the same 14-month spell.

Pubs that disappeared have either been demolished or converted into other uses such as homes or offices, said Altus.

Worth reading in full.

A Tenth of Britain’s Restaurants Lost During Lockdown

Restaurants will be able to reopen for indoor service from Monday, but only if lockdown hasn’t already forced them to close for good. There are now 9.7% fewer restaurants – and 19.% fewer “casual dining venues” – across Britain than in March 2020, according to new research. BBC News has the story.

The data in the latest Market Recovery Monitor from CGA and AlixPartners suggests that while many pubs and bars have also struggled to survive the pandemic, it is restaurants that have fared worst…

CGA and AlixPartners measured the impact of the last 13 months on pubs and restaurants that hold a licence to serve alcohol. 

Looking at the net number of venues, once all closures and new openings were taken into account, they found pubs across Britain fared slightly better than the restaurant sector.

The number of pubs serving food has fallen by 4.2%. Bars and pubs that only serve drinks fell by 5.2%. 

But on top of the near-20% fall in casual dining outlets, bar-restaurants, which make up a smaller part of the overall dining market, fell by 9.6%. 

General restaurants, which are the largest dining out category, are down 10.2%.

While restaurants that belong to larger chains were sometimes able to fall back on the group financially, or negotiate agreements with landlords across the business, independent operators have found it harder to survive.

The restaurant sector was already shrinking before the pandemic, but the net losses between 2017 and 2019 were between 0.9% and 2.2% a year, according to CGA AlixPartners data.

Many of those earlier losses were in crowded sectors such as burger bars. But losses over the past year have included businesses with otherwise promising futures.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The “BBC [is] doing its usual conflation trick” in reporting that restaurants were lost because of the pandemic rather than because of lockdowns, says Luke Johnson.

Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Hails “Day of Freedom” as Restrictions Are Partially Eased – but Hotels, Pubs and Restaurants Will Remain Closed Until June

Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has branded Monday a “day of hope and freedom” following the partial easing of lockdown restrictions.

A number of businesses have been able to resume service. But much of Ireland’s society – including hotels, pubs and restaurants – will remain closed until June at the earliest. BBC News has the story.

The Republic had been at the highest level of restrictions – level five – since Christmas.

But close-contact services, such as hairdressers, are now reopening and click-and-collect retail has resumed.

People are now also able to travel across the country.

They can move outside their own county for the first time in more than four months. Sports training can also resume.

Mr Varadkar told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme on Monday that 12,000 businesses were due to reopen this week and 100,000 people could return to work.

He said the current financial support for businesses would be in place until the end of June…

The easing of restrictions in the Republic of Ireland is part of a phased relaxation of the country’s strict Covid lockdown announced by Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin in April.

Libraries, museums, galleries and other cultural attractions are also opening…

The measures permit people to travel for non-essential journeys outside their county and up to 50 people can attend weddings, funerals and other religious services.

Three households, or a group of six people, can meet outdoors, including in private gardens, and a vaccinated household can meet an unvaccinated one indoors.

Some dates have been laid out for when (“all being well”!) lockdown restrictions will further ease.

From May 17th, all non-essential shops in the Republic of Ireland can reopen to customers.

From June 2nd, hotels, guest houses and self-catering accommodation will be permitted to trade.

All pubs, regardless of whether they serve food, along with restaurants can open for outdoor service on June 7th.

The summer relaxation is premised on containing new variants and accelerating a vaccination programme that is well behind Northern Ireland’s.

Worth reading in full.

Pubs Close Their Beer Gardens as Poor Weather Keeps Punters Away

Profits at pubs that have access to outdoor space have – as expected – been dampened by poor weather. A triple whammy of heavy rain, high winds and low temperatures has kept pub-goers away from exposed beer gardens today. MailOnline has more.

The Environment Agency had two flood alerts in place for England today – one for the River Sow and River Penk in Stafford, and the other covering the River Burn from Waterden to Burnham Thorpe in Norfolk.

The Met Office said parts of the Brecon Beacons in South Wales could see five inches of rain between 6am today and midnight tonight, while BBC Weather said wind gusts in County Antrim reached 59mph this morning.

Pubs across England – such as in North Staffordshire and the West Midlands – have been forced to close temporarily because of the weather, and not for the first time. A publican at The Fox in Shipley told the Express and Star that ongoing Covid rules are “really affecting the business”.

I would say the rain has stopped people from coming out.

If people are dining and it rains they’ve got nowhere to go because we can’t let them go inside because of Covid rules and so it’s really affected the business.

We’ve had to close and we’re only doing short days, too. We didn’t open on bank holiday Monday because of the weather and it’s affected us big time…

We made a decision to close on the bank holiday last Thursday when we saw the weather forecast.

We thought it’s silly staffing the place knowing full-well what was coming.

The weather is expected to improve a little tomorrow, but the uncertainty caused by Covid regulations is keeping many publicans on edge – highlighting the importance of legal challenges against the delayed reopening of indoor hospitality.

The MailOnline report is worth reading in full.