Early closing ‘absolutely devastating’ for some pubs and restaurants

New rules to curb the spread of coronavirus will be “absolutely devastating” for pubs and restaurants, leaving some businesses unable to cover their costs, the industry is warning.

A 10pm curfew will be “disastrous” for some venues, according to Martin Wolstencroft who manages bars across the north of England.

“This is going to be the final nail in the coffin for many,” he told the BBC.

The government is set to announce the new rules later on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to say that all pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues in England must have a 22:00 closing time from Thursday.

The sector will also be restricted by law to table service only.

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“It’s just so frustrating, so negative,” Mr Wolstencroft told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “After 10 o’clock is really when we start making money because that’s when we start getting busier.”

Mr Wolstencroft is chief executive of Arc Inspirations, which runs 17 bars and restaurants across Leeds, Manchester, York and Newcastle.

Free mixing

On Monday, the government’s scientific and health advisers warned of a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks if no further measures were taken to limit its spread, in a worst case scenario, reaching 50,000 new daily cases from mid-October.

The night-time economy is considered a high-risk area for the spread of the virus, because people adhere to the rules less strictly after consuming alcohol and in venues where they are used to mixing freely.

But the Night Time Industries Association said if pubs and bars had to close at 10pm there was likely to be “a surge of unregulated events and house parties which are the real hot beds of infection”.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told BBC Breakfast that there was evidence the 22:00 closing time has had a “beneficial effect” in the areas where the restriction has already been tried, such as Bolton. A 10pm curfew was introduced last week in parts of north-east England.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is due to make an announcement on further restrictions in Scotland later, which could also include curfews for hospitality venues. Pubs must close at 11pm already in the six counties that are under tighter lockdown measures in Wales.

“People will think it’s not that significant but it will have a very big economic impact and a real impact on jobs,” said Kate Nicholls chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality.

“In effect, it reduces revenues by 50% because you need to call last orders for food at nine in order to get people out of the door,” she said.

Oliver Vaulkhard, managing director of a hospitality group in north east England, said that had been the experience at the venues he runs.

The Vaulkhard Group only has six of its 15 venues open currently; its music and night club settings remain closed and those that were opened were trading at around 60% until last week.

But he said new tighter restrictions had reduced business dramatically again over the weekend.

“10 o’clock doesn’t sound dreadful but it does halve your revenue.

“You can sit people between 7 and 7.30 and when they’re gone they’re gone. You can’t get that 9 o’clock sitting.

“People have this vision, it’s just a few blokes standing at a bar at 10.30. What does it matter?

“But of course people having a meal may want a cocktail afterwards. People may want to go to the cinema and may want a drink afterwards.

“As these individual strands are taken away that just further limits the revenue streams and further increases the challenges.”

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