The Hospitality Industry reacts to Government’s 10pm COVID Curfew

From tomorrow (Thursday 24th September), pubs, restaurants and bars across England must close at 10pm following the government’s latest declaration. Boris Johnson has this morning also threatened a second lockdown, placing blame and responsibility on the British public. The curfew has been given no end date and comes into effect mere weeks before the furlough scheme is set to end, with no ongoing support to hospitality venues or workers announced.

In short, it is yet another hair-brained scheme from an inept government led by feckless dopes so blinded by their own privilege and driven solely by a psychopathic hunger for money and power that they will stop at nothing to pass the blame for their own failings onto the general public and the hospitality industry, whilst doing little to truly tackle COVID. We speak with a number of industry professional bodies, venue owners and hospitality workers to elicit reactions to the new curfew from those directly affected by COVID business restrictions and the government’s continued failure.

What the Scientists and Hospitality Industry Bodies have to say

Boris Johnson covid

This morning, multiple news outlets reported many UK scientists warning that the Boris Johnson’s new measures will likely have “little to no impact” on the number of COVID cases. Scientists continue to refute the “implausible” warning of 50,000 cases a day that the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance recently stated, instead stating that COVID-19 cases “could only be doubling every 20 days”, and that Vallance’s incendiary figure was plucked out of outdated and purely researched data. The new and more accurate prediction – which takes into account preventative measures put in place last month – shows 41,600 fewer cases (80% less) than the Government’s “doomsday” projection of 50,000 by October.

Scientists, industry leaders and Scotland’s first minister have all criticised Boris Johnson’s national 10pm curfew on pubs, bars and restaurants as ineffective, dealing “a potentially fatal blow” to businesses, and paving the way for a surge in raves and house parties. The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) warn that “many pubs and coffee shops will not be able to trade profitably under these new rules and will have to close again”, dealing a potentially fatal blow to many independents.

UKHospitality branded the curfew “another crushing blow” for a sector “already on its knees”, with Chief Executive Kate Nicholls adding that she found it hard to understand how these measures are the solution to fighting the disease and pointing to government data showing just five percent of infections outside home settings are related to hospitality, compared to 45% to Care Homes, 21% to Education and 18% to Workplace.

Artist illustration @gabchoj

Jeremy Gibson of Hospitality Action adds, 

“Despite their own data suggesting that hospitality venues account for a negligible number of infections, the government has chosen to impose these new rules at short notice and just a few weeks before the furlough scheme is set to end. Unless more support is made available to the sector quickly we will see widespread closures, job losses and the mental health implications that will inevitably follow. We call upon the government to extend its support for the millions of hard working people in the sector whose livelihoods are disappearing.”

What Bar and Restaurant Industry Individuals have to say

Alex Kratena and Monica Berg
Alex Kratena and Monica Berg outside their award-winning venue, Tayēr + Elementary

Monica Berg – industry legend and co-owner of newly reopened bar and restaurant concept, Tayēr + Elementary – states, “The fact is, we are being penalised for the government’s weakness and lack of ability. We could have been a great ally, instead we are being blamed for something we did not cause. If this ban is not followed by some sort of protective measures to help hospitality – this week will be remembered as the moment hospitality died.”

Her partner Alex Kratena adds,

Bars like ours take 70% of the revenue after 10pm – we are already doing 50% less business than last year. Government data shows that only 5% of infections are connected to hospitality – the only thing the government is killing here is a small independent, award-winning business that creates culture and a sense of place. We have now been served a death sentence. I’ve been here for 15 years; I could lose my life-long dream.The government has failed to deliver functioning testing and track and trace, and instead is putting thousands of businesses at risk and hundreds of thousands of livelihoods will be lost. Hospitality must not be punished for failures of this government.” 

Andy Kerr and The Sun Tavern
Andy Kerr, The Sun Tavern

Late night bars such as The Umbrella Project’s The Sun Tavern and Discount Suit Company take the majority of their revenue between 9pm and 1am. Co-owner Andy Kerr, describes the new ruling as “a travesty”:

“We’ve been following distancing and hygiene guidelines extremely closely and don’t deserve to be penalised. Our Bethnal Green venue has existed since 1851. This could be the end for us and it’ll get turned in to more luxury flats that locals can’t afford. We want to pay our staff, we want to serve the community, and our guests are safer here than with 10 of their mates in an enclosed flat.”

Hospitality Gin Founder, Tom Lord, also speaks of unfair stigmatisation of the hospitality industry: “The hospitality has been open for weeks now without a discernible uptick in cases, however as schools and offices are reopening we are seeing a surge. I’m not suggesting that we should close schools and offices, but how about they shoulder some of the blame? When I’m dropping my kids off at school there are very few parents wearing masks and even less social distancing. And you can spend a full day sharing an office without wearing a mask, but you can’t open your bar at anything other than severely reduced capacity and a hand-washing routine that puts surgeons to shame? Makes sense.”

He continues to dismantle the ‘sense’ or lack therein of the curfew:

“What is this curfew actually going to do? Restaurants are losing their second sitting, which usually starts at 20:30 or 21:00, as they won’t be able to get them out the door in time for a 22:00 curfew. The second sitting tend to be the bigger spenders as they’re later in the evening, and so will order a few more drinks, and generally take their time over their meal. That could add up to over half the take on a midweek shift. Fun fact: half the take of a restaurant operating at reduced capacity is not even covering costs. And how will it affect pubs and bars? Dependent on the style they can be losing anywhere between an hour of trade, or six, possibly more. I’ve worked in venues where 60% of trade comes after midnight, let alone after 22:00; what are they meant to do? And the traditional workday isn’t moving, the standard finish time is still between 17:00 and 18:00, so ‘venues opening earlier’ isn’t a silver bullet either. 

“Finally, and it’s only finally as otherwise I’ll continue dismantling this for hours, what happens at 10pm, when everyone who has been trying to squeeze six hours of drinking into three gets kicked out at once. Public transport will be heaving and taxi ranks will be a mess. Aside from that, no one will want to ‘just go home’, they’ll go to someone’s house for one last drink. The whole idea has had the same level of thought applied to it as a toddler’s first shit.

“And that’s without going into the lack of support on offer. Furlough finishes in under six weeks, and we’ve just been told that there’s potentially six months of restrictions. This is the sound of thousands of small businesses dying.”

Deano and Connie
Deano Moncrieffe and Connie Cain

It is a “total disaster, just as we were starting to recover”, states Hacha’s Deano Moncrieffe. “We can’t even plan ahead for Christmas which is obviously the busiest time of year, we can’t take group bookings & now we can’t open 10-11pm when we usually make most of our money!”

Milk Reading’s Connie Cain adds her voice to the foray: “I’m gutted that the world is going through this and I’m very conflicted. There is a global pandemic and I don’t want more people to suffer, whether the cause is COVID or closure of their businesses. On a side note – I’m so impressed with us. We as an industry have adapted so quickly to all the new measures and, where there’s always been a togetherness, there’s an even stronger sense of camaraderie and community.”

Oriole Bar Review

Commenting on the timing and Government support, Edmund Weil, Co-owner of London’s multi-award-winning Nightjar and Oriole states: “It is – like BoJo’s initial cop-out (the week in which he said venues should stay open, but the public should not visit them) – a filthy, cowardly, fudge. It’s unlikely to have any tangible impact on transmission […] but it plunges bars back into the abyss, just as light was beginning to appear at the end of the tunnel. Maybe they’re going to do the right thing and put some targeted support in place for wet-led venues. But I am not holding my breath.”

A Shit-Show

Steve Bell Boris COVID cartoon

The reality of the new announcement by the Government is that it is wantoning slapping a poorly made and ill-fitting plaster on a gaping chasm of a wound, without thought or care for the injured, further support or indeed even providing the means to bury them once they’ve succumbed to their festering sores. Many more businesses will close, hundred of thousands of workers will lose their jobs (with many flung into poverty and even homelessness), and – most importantly – scientist are adamant that there is no evidence that COVID cases will be reduced by early closing, since revelry will continue at home in closer quarters, and both schools and workplaces are continuing to reopen.

We hope that the Government – following its cowardly-timed curfew announcement – will soon release a full, detailed and comprehensive scheme to help individuals (including those who were left behind by the last set of furlough measures) and businesses affected. However, like Edmund, we’re not holding our breathe.

If your hospitality work, mental health and/or finances have been affected by COVID and the Government’s curfew, please contact Hospitality Action and The Drinks Trust, for assistance and advice.