Friday 23 October 2020 3:58 am

When will the government stop hanging bars out to dry?

Jamie Hazeel is managing director of Little Door & Co.

“Dreadful evening, so many bookings cancelled, sent half the staff home”

“So many cancellations after new announcements — no way we could police it.”

“Much, much lower takings, any good momentum we had is gone.”

This is the real, unfiltered voice of the hospitality industry.

Read more: End the war on pubs — hospitality isn’t to blame for the Covid crisis

These direct quotes from our bars’ manager reports last Saturday are the actual words which lead to closures and job losses. It is our testament to the devastation being wreaked on our sector — and the true cost of the government’s inconsistent and ill-conceived policymaking.

We run a group of house-party themed bars in London. As lockdown approached, we employed over 70 people and were on the verge of opening a third site. Now we are fighting for our businesses’ lives.

Every blow brings us closer to a reality where it makes better financial sense to close our doors and put the company into hibernation — a reality where most of our team would lose their jobs. These people are not just employees, they are our family. And they are people who will be very exposed without income.

Understanding how the odds are stacked against businesses like ours is simple. Over the summer, we lost 70 per cent of our capacity as having standing customers became unfeasible.

The curfew was the next blow, as 60 per cent of our sales typically happen after 10pm.

Now, the Tier 2 restrictions have cut in half what revenue we were scraping together. People generally go to bars to meet friends, not to have a drink with others in their own household.

No surprise then that weekend trade, the bedrock of any thriving venue, is now down to 10 per cent of pre-pandemic numbers. How can any business be expected to survive in these conditions?

As ever more hurdles line up in front of us, the government has belatedly adjusted its support offering to recognise the hit to businesses in Tier 2 — which up until this week had been ignored completely. Rishi Sunak’s promise yesterday of topping up staff wages in affected businesses was welcome, and will hopefully enable us to keep on more of our staff on part-time contracts.

But the suggestion that this makes up for the catastrophic impact of increasingly constrictive and ever-changing rules is ludicrous.

Stacking up disproportionate restrictions, like the 10pm curfew and ban on households mixing, is tantamount to mandating us to close. Even with the new support offer, the requirement for staff to work 20 per cent of their hours means consigning thousands of businesses and countless jobs to failure — without even the dignity of looking that fact in the eyes. And as if the rules themselves weren’t bad enough, we are handicapped by how haphazardly they have been imposed. 

My business and others like it have been forced into making continuous emergency decisions with hours’ notice, without any clarity or comprehensible plan from the government. In August, we were encouraged to kickstart the engine and begin investing in regrowth. And we did: by launching initiatives and events to maximise what revenue we could take; by planning for Christmas, the linchpin of our financial year; by investing thousands of pounds and working hours. Now, to rub salt into the wound, because of constant government U-turns, all of this effort has been for nothing.

Imagine how we feel, week after week, reading that Public Health England figures show that less than four per cent of traceable infections come from the hospitality sector. Anger and disappointment do not come close to covering it. We are speechless. 

We need measures proportional to the actual risks. We need far greater financial support. And most of all, we need clear direction around which we can plan ahead. 

My business is one of the lucky ones. We enjoyed huge growth before the pandemic and are well-financed — and even then, our business is in dire straits. Others are not so fortunate. Something must change otherwise the toll of the next month will be catastrophic. 

The hospitality industry is crucial to our economy, and even more so in a recession. But hospitality is more than the numbers. It is venues integral to our culture and community, that our customers love and cherish. And it is a lifeline to people who need employment, who love their jobs, and who are deeply insulted at being told to retrain as if the work they do does not matter.

These are the voices which need to be heard — as they represent the true cost of the government’s haphazard and devastating strategy.

Read more: Rishi Sunak’s new business support: What does it mean for you?

Main image credit: Getty

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