After a long winter in lockdown, Britons today (April 12) will celebrate the re-opening of pub and restaurant gardens in England, in a significant milestone in the government’s roadmap out of coronavirus restrictions.
From today, pub and restaurant gardens, alongside other venues and outlets such as non-essential shops, hairdressers, and gyms are allowed to welcome their customers back after months of total closure.
Pub and restaurant customers must either follow the rule of six – where they cannot gather in groups of more than six people from different households – or they can gather in a group of any size from a maximum of two households.
As when pubs and restaurants were last open, all non-exempt customers must wear face coverings when not seated at their table – for example when using toilet facilities or being shown to their table. Customers must eat, drink and order from their table, and they must also give contact details to staff or check in with the NHS Test and Trace app.
Unlike previous restrictions last year before the present lockdown, pub customers do not need to order a ‘substantial meal’ with their drinks.
It is hoped today will mark the beginning of the end of severe Covid-19 restrictions that have hammered hospitality and much of the retail sector. It is estimated that since the beginning of the pandemic, 600,000 jobs have been lost in the UK hospitality industry alone.
While many pubs, restaurants and retail shops will welcome the return of customers this week, far too many of these businesses have sadly been forced to close their doors permanently, having failed to survive the massive downturn in trade over the last year.
Research published in January from consultants CGA and business advisory firm AlixPartners found that an estimated 10,000 licensed premises, including pubs, restaurants and clubs, closed permanently last year alone. When new openings were factored in, there was a net total of nearly 6,000 permanent licensed premises closures across the UK in 2020. This represented a 175 per cent increase in net closures from 2019.
Separate research from the Local Data Company (LDC) found that 17,500 chain store outlets disappeared from Britain’s high streets and shopping centres, with an average of 48 shops, restaurants or other leisure or hospitality venues shuttering permanently every single day last year.
Meanwhile, the British Beer and Pub Association estimated in December that about 2,500 pubs – about 5 per cent of all pubs in the UK – closed permanently since the pandemic began.
Behind the closures of thousands of these businesses are hundreds of thousands of jobs and livelihoods lost. Many experienced hospitality workers have had to find work in a completely different field just to make ends meet. Even for those who have not lost their jobs, many in the hospitality industry have suffered significant pay reductions on furlough.
Despite the pain they have endured this last year, hospitality workers are keen to get back to work as restrictions are relaxed. Unite is working closely with its members in hospitality to ensure that employers provide workplaces that are Covid-secure with strict adherence to social distancing. The union also continues its work lobbying the government for support for the sector.
Commenting today on the re-opening of pub and restaurant gardens, Unite national officer for hospitality Dave Turnbull said, “Our members in hospitality welcome this small step toward the full reopening of their sector. They are keen on getting back to looking after the public and delivering their culinary and customer service skills.
“However, they also have understandable worries, based on previous experience, that employers cannot always be relied upon to fairly implement necessary social distancing and protective equipment measures,” Turnbull added.
“There have also been instances when lockdown was previously lifted where some customers have been rude or confrontational when staff have made them aware of measures or restrictions in place. We would ask the public to be mindful of this and understand that those trying to balance the necessary Covid precautions with giving you a good customer experience deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
By Hajera Blagg