Covid-hit hospitality bosses are calling on the Government for straight talking about any new measures ahead of Christmas, saying further uncertainty would leave the industry “screwed”.
Michelin-rated restaurant owner Alex Claridge urged ministers to “cut the bullshit” and give businesses a road map of possible options now, before firms “fall off a cliff”.
“We’re left in the same position we were in last March.”
Anton Sevelevs, manager of Cassia Sambuca in North Shields, North Tyneside, said: the Government should “stop messing about and giving out mixed messages”.
The words were echoed by Zoe Ellis – owner of Chester’s Palm Cocktail Bar & Eatery – who said: “We need clearer guidelines from the Government.”
She added most of the cancellations her business had received were due to positive Covid cases, rather than customers’ fear of becoming infected.
Ms Ellis said: “Unfortunately, as it stands, (the Government) are doing what they did the first time around, which is not telling people to close or putting restrictions but just telling the general public not to go out.
“In my opinion, they are doing it so they don’t have to give financial aid to people, which is, of course, having a negative impact on the entire hospitality industry.”
Anyone with half a brain gets boosted, wears a mask and gets on with it
Celebrity and corporate party planner Liz Taylor said: “We cannot cancel Christmas again, we have to live with this.”
The businesswoman has worked with Coronation Street staff, Manchester United and on Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford’s wedding, and was still planning a prominent client’s 80th birthday celebration this weekend, although the guest list has dropped from 100 to 75.
The Manchester-based planner said: “We’ve had no cancellations yet, but it’s on a wing and a prayer.
“Anyone with half a brain gets boosted, wears a mask and gets on with it.”
Mr Claridge, whose Birmingham eatery The Wilderness is in the Michelin guide, said the company made a decision in September not to take “big party” bookings at Christmas, “because we felt it was risky”.
For me, the tragedy is the symmetry with what happened in March 2020
“That was the right decision, because we have not seen the wholesale collapse of bookings.
“For me, the tragedy is the symmetry with what happened in March 2020.
“Yet again, at best it is naivety from the Treasury and the Government – it’s pretty limp and insipid.
“Like Frankie Boyle said in his tweet, the advice seems to be have parties and don’t go to them.”
Current advice seems to be have Christmas parties but don’t go to them
— Frankie Boyle (@frankieboyle) December 15, 2021
Mr Claridge said the Covid pandemic had changed customer behaviour, with his restaurant going from the “dream” scenario of having 75% of bookings at least three months in advance, to now only being 10 days in advance.
“I understand the Government wants to choose its words carefully – to avoid the word ‘must’ – but the horse has bolted,” he added.
“Everyone has an absolutely atrocious balance sheet, everyone is paying off Covid debts.
“Yes, we’ve had a good year. But set that against the context; it is going to take me two to three years to pay off the debt incurred from Covid.”
He said much of the hospitality sector relied on the Christmas period to sustain businesses through the January to March period, but there was now real “jeopardy” for many, because of what he said was a lack of planning and certainty from the Government.
If the great minds in charge of the country... can't work out what to do in each scenario, then we're all screwed anyway
He said: “I’m not willing to sit back and engage in the doe-eyed belief they (the Government) don’t realise that the messaging they are putting out is materially damaging to the hospitality industry.
“There’s not that many permutations of what could happen: less restrictions, more restrictions or just get shut down – that’s three options.
“If the great minds in charge of the country can’t see that there’s just those three options, and can’t work out what to do in each scenario, then we’re all screwed anyway.”
Mr Claridge called for the Government to discuss its contingency planning with the industry quickly, as many restaurants break up on December 23 or Christmas Eve.
He said: “What needs to be discussed, even if they’re not terribly willing to do it, is a road map for business.
“Let’s cut the bullshit.
“Because if you wait for businesses to be on the precipice, that’s not a good time to have that sort of discussions, because they’ll be about to fall off a cliff.
“If there is significant interruption, then I think it should be fair to assume that furlough should be reintroduced, and if there’s financial hardship, then will grants be on the table?
With no financial support this time, we are left out at sea with no lifeboat
Nikolas Opacic, restaurant owner
“If not, then we want a VAT freeze at 12.5% or we want it back down to 5%.”
Nikolas Opacic, 30, owner of Seven 54 all-day restaurant in Manchester, said: “The Government should be clearer for hospitality instead of leaving us to fend for ourselves.
“With no financial support this time, we are left out at sea with no lifeboat.
“Leaving us open but telling the general public to judge for themselves if it’s safe to go out is too vague.”