Suffolk pub bosses hit back at Government's new 10pm curfew for hospitality sector
Pubs and clubs across Suffolk have hit back at the Government-ordered 10pm curfew which is set to come into play tomorrow to help fight the spread of coronavirus.
Boris Johnson, the prime minister, announced on Tuesday that pubs across the country would be restricted to table service only and forced to close by 10pm at the latest. It is one of several measures which have been introduced to curb the soaring number of cases across the UK.
But business owners in our county have slammed the decision, which they said was damaging what was already the sector hardest hit by the pandemic.
Lorraine Woodgate, owner of pub and nightclub The Grand in Felixstowe , altered her opening hours and services at the end of lockdown to ensure she would be able to open the business.
“I have now been closing at 12pm and introduced more food options and table service,” she said.
“I had to do something to keep us afloat and it has been quite good when the weather has been nice.”
But Lorraine, who has owned The Grand for seven years and worked there for more than 26, said she was ‘extremely worried’ for the future of the business which, due to social distancing, currently has a maximum capacity of 50 - 10 per cent of what it was before the pandemic.
“The curfew is going to be very difficult for me,” she said. “At night I haven’t been getting bookings for food and drinks until around 9 or 9.30pm so that takes all that away.
“As a nightclub, we were already struggling, having not been allowed to open and not having had any financial help, but this has just added to it.
“I don’t know what is going to happen. It’s going to have to be a wait and see situation.”
Diane Leeder, who works at The Queens Head in Cross Street, Eye, said the curfew was nonsensical and would encourage people to gather in groups at home.
"If people have been together all evening, they will go home as a group and be a lot closer to each other in their homes,” she said.
"It’s going to hurt us quite a bit financially, because we do get very busy, especially on Fridays.”
The 62-year-old added that a lack of cohesive messaging had left publicans in the dark.
She said: "Is it 10 we have got to have everyone out, or at 10 we have to stop serving?
"It’s frustrating – I think if things were set in stone, and everyone was singing from the same hymn sheet and knew what we were doing it would be okay, but it’s so complicated."
The owners of The Bull at Barton Mills, near Mildenhall , have also slammed the decision, claiming that it is punishing landlords who have already put stringent safety measures in place.
Cheryl Hickman, director of the pub, said she and her colleagues had done ‘absolutely everything’ they could to ensure the safety of their customers and staff, including introducing social distancing, operating solely on table service and having staff at the door until close to stop people gathering.
“It would make no difference if we closed at 10pm or 11pm,” she said.
“Our guests would be as safe at that time as they would be at noon. We have a zero tolerance to the non-conformers.”
She added that the news came as a blow to the business, which experienced its busiest August in 13 years thanks to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
“It’s tough out here but we’ve been smashing it at The Bull. We have a mantra that is never ever quit,” she said.
“The Government is doing what they think is best but surely these measures should be focussed on the bad operators. As licence holders we already have a legal duty to keep people safe - why didn’t the badly operated businesses just get closed?
“The badly operated businesses won’t suddenly become sensible operators until 10pm every day. They will most likely be just as irresponsible still. This just means the likely scenario is we’ll all face closures again.”
Julie Penney, co-owner of The Swan in Monks Eleigh with husband Stephen, said the latest restrictions felt like 'another kick in the teeth' to the hospitality industry.
She described the Government’s communication as awful, adding that, for some pubs, this could be the final straw.
“With every new restriction that’s imposed, it has a knock-on effect because it affects consumer confidence,” Mrs Penney said. “Every time there’s a new restriction, people deem it unsafe to come out.
“I don’t know how it’s all going to pan out. I don’t think the Government really thinks things through, especially when it comes to the hospitality industry.
“We’ve got to bring our dining services forward, and it’s now table service only, which puts added pressure on us, as a small team.
“There’s a feeling that another lockdown may happen sooner rather than later. We worry we might have the rug pulled out from under us again. We don’t want to be caught out like last time.
“We’re barely breaking even at the moment and, at times, it’s almost cheaper to close than be open.
“As a rural pub, we have to work extra hard to encourage people to come out to us. Hopefully, we can survive this, but it’s very scary.”
Meanwhile, a Sudbury publican criticised the Government’s communication of the rapidly-changing rules, and hopes its customers will continue to support it during the new opening times.
Duncan Tuhey, landlord of the Prince of Wales pub in New Street, said: “I think some people aren’t taking the rules seriously. It doesn’t surprise me that the Government is doing this, but I don’t know if this is the right solution.
“We’re second-guessing what is going to happen all the time. We’re not really sure what’s going on and the public are just as confused. The Government is not very transparent in what it wants us to do.
“We have to deal with what we are given. We just have to get on with it and make the best of the current circumstances.
“We’ve got a good regular base of customers and they are quite loyal, so I think they will support us, whatever time we open. But I don’t think every pub will be in that position.”
And Gary Addison, who runs The White Horse in North Street, Sudbury , with his wife Ashley, said they would rather have to shut earlier than be closed completely again, having seen their trade busier than ever since reopening in July.
But he explained he expects more restrictions are likely to come, and the pub is already preparing for the possibility of having to return to a takeaway format, in the event of a second lockdown.
“In the grand scheme of things, we’re still trading and taking money,” Mr Addison said. “We’re fortunate that we’re busy during the day, so the curfew is not going to massively hit us, although we’ll suffer a bit on Fridays and Saturdays.
“I think there will be another lockdown. I think it’s inevitable. It’s a waiting game and we hope, whatever happens, we’re given more notice than it just being thrown upon us like in March.
“The bottom line is that if people keep their distance, there would not be another rise in cases. I think people have got complacent, although the Government has aided in that.
“As a business, our rules have been very clear. We stick to the rules we’ve been given, and we’re trying to make the best of it. Our customers support us very well and we’re very lucky in that sense.
“We have to be optimistic, but I don’t think the pub industry can change much more than it already has. We just have to take each day as it comes.”
Bury St Edmunds
David Marjoram, owner of Gusto Pronto Pubs which includes the One Bull in Bury St Edmunds and Brewshed Brewery, said he didn't understand why the hospitality sector was being targeted when infections were spreading in other areas.
“I understand the Government needs to do something, it feels a shame that they're picking on hospitality when with the data around, the infections point that it's not happening in pubs and restaurants," he said.
“And from a drinking point of view, that last hour or two of the evening is often some of the most important.”
Another concern for David was that the curfew might push customers away from pubs, bars and restaurants, but into people's homes.
Charlie Athorne, co-owner of No.5 Angel Hill, Bury St Edmunds, said compulsory table service was a less efficient way of taking orders and would slow everything down.
“If we have to take orders at the table, it throws a huge amount of questions up in the air. How do we take payment, how do we take people's details safely and securely,” he said.
He added: “It would certainly have an adverse effect in as much as it would slow everything up completely.”
Andy Bendall, landlord at The Fox and Hounds in Thurston, echoed David's thoughts.
“Probably what will happen, you'll end up with people going back to their houses after the pub,” he said.
He added: “They'll be doing it in their house, which hasn't got hand sanitiser, hasn't got a risk assessment.”
Michelle Payne, landlady at the Ingate Freehouse in Beccles , thinks the new rules are ‘simple’.
She said the pub has only been allowing a maximum of six people per table since they were first allowed to reopen anyway, as well as offering face masks to customers and a one-way system.
“We’ve brought in new customers because we have made it so safe,” Michelle said.
In the last few months, they also converted the Ingate’s car park into outdoor seating which meant they have increased their capacity by 52.
Michelle said their main concern was that the 10pm curfew might mean that they would not be able to show any sports fixtures which would continue after that time.
“That will keep a lot of people away and we will therefore not be able to show those games so we will be losing revenue that way,” she said.
In recent weeks, they have also started offering table service, which has meant they need to employ more staff.
Despite these challenges, Michelle said: “We would rather be open.”
She added: “It’s simple really. The changes aren’t asking that much - face masks when you are moving and table service.”
And Shaun Waters, owner of the Norman Warrior in Lowestoft , agreed that the new measures wouldn’t make a big difference to the running of his business.
“Since we’ve reopened we’ve only been open till 11pm most nights anyway, so for us, it’s not a massive thing,” he said.
But Shaun said he could see that there could be a negative impact of the new measures.
“To be forced to shut at 10pm without any more financial support is not something we’re overly excited about,” he added.
“On Friday and Saturday nights we are sometimes open until midnight and as we are heading towards the festive season, people are already saying it looks like Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve could be out.
“But a couple of months down the line we don't know where we'll be - it might not be an issue."
Nick Mackenzie, Greene King chief executive, had major concerns about the new changes.
“Pubs are just starting to get back on their feet after lockdown and these new restrictions are a significant setback,” he said.
“We urgently need the government to extend the furlough scheme for hospitality venues and confirm what additional support it will provide to protect jobs and the future of pubs.
“We made safety our priority when reopening and fewer than 1% of our 1,700 managed pubs have been contacted by NHS Test & Trace since reopening in July, which demonstrates pubs are not disproportionately spreading cases and our measures are working.
“Removing a key trading period and further damaging customer confidence looks set to cost us several million pounds per week on top of already reduced customer numbers in our pubs to maintain social distancing.
“Given these restrictions and likely timescales we need support from government to avoid further job losses in the hospitality sector in addition to the 135,000 so far.”