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Once Again, Restaurants Need to Know Exactly When They Can Reopen

The trade body representing the hospitality industry says the government needs to provide urgent clarity

Restaurants across London remain closed and do not have clarity on when they can reopen Michaël Protin/Eater London

U.K. Hospitality, the trade body representing the hospitality industry, has requested that the government urgently provides clarity on exactly when restaurants, bars, and pubs can reopen in the U.K.

Restaurant tenants are obliged to pay rent in eight days’ time; the earliest the government has indicated they can reopen for dine-in customers is 4 July. Although businesses are notionally aiming and planning to reopen then, the current government advice is that some “crowded venues” — a category in which many hospitality businesses necessarily exist — may not be able to open until a later date.

UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said the industry needed “confirmation of the reopening date for hospitality businesses without any further delay.” For the full industry to better understand its short-term future, “reopening” itself must also be accurately defined. The 4 July date has only ever offered a point at which some hospitality venues can reopen for dine-in customers; for the industry’s many “crowded venues,” no specific assurances have been given.

This lack of clarity on when restaurants can reopen is compounded by uncertainty on how they will, when they know: Guidelines so far make no mention of specific requirements for distancing or capacity. Yesterday, the government indicated that it is now formally reviewing social distancing rules (a reduction to which would be to the benefit of restaurants), yet there is still no resolution on the critical question of how businesses that have not been generating revenue can pay rent which is due on 24 June.

It is in this context that the trade body wrote to business secretary Alok Sharma and culture secretary Oliver Dowden yesterday, “to reiterate the urgent need for clarity in order to reactivate workers and resume business.” Nicholls said that businesses “need time to prepare and the first step in giving them some much-needed clarity is confirmation of when they can open their doors again.”

Nicholls also pointed to economic figures published last week, which revealed that the shutdown of hospitality in the U.K. accounted for over a quarter of the country’s 20.4 percent fall in GDP. That data “illustrated the powerful economic might of the sectors, so the country can ill afford delaying their return to trading,” Nicholls said.

The chief executive added that while she felt the government was leaning in the right directions to the aid of hospitality, it needed to do more, and do it soon. “A review of the two-metre social distancing rule is a positive show of intent for hospitality but with less than three weeks to the proposed re-opening date for our sector, a crucial element of certainty is conspicuously absent,” she said.

To ensure that reopening was a success for hospitality, Nicholls added that the government also needed to publish clear “COVID-secure guidelines” for the sector, commit to support tourism and hospitality businesses with tax cuts (via tourism VAT and Air Passenger Duty), and to create an autumn Bank Holiday.

Lastly, Nicholls urged the government to grant an extension of the “lease forfeiture moratorium” which would give landlords and tenants the ability to negotiate the terms of their rental agreement without the former able to deploy the threat of eviction. While it is not known why the government has not done this yet, it is expected to do so following the official publication of its negotiating “code of practice” later this week.

More soon.