Boris Johnson’s government will order all hospitality venues to close at 10 p.m. from this Thursday, 24 September. The new coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, pubs, and bars come as cases continue to rise in the U.K., but stop short of the mooted two-week targeted lockdown leaked to government lobby journalists last week. Bar service will also be banned.
That’s what’s restaurants and their hospitality compatriots know right now. The government is yet to announce how and by whom the rules will be enforced; precisely what has to happen at 10 p.m.; how it plans to mitigate people pouring out of venues all at the same time; and what the actual epidemiological rationale behind the measures is. Venues that stay open late to serve workers, pub-goers, and the city’s nighthawks will be devastated by this curfew, the great majority of them small businesses owned by people of colour. If the government does employ COVID-marshals or other enforcement measures, it will face questions about consistency and proportion of enforcement.
Johnson later said that while office workers should not go to work, retail and hospitality venues should. He said “simplicity” was the name of the game, despite the patent lack of simplicity in the plans. He added that restaurant-goers will have to wear masks in restaurants, as would all staff, except when eating or drinking.
For restaurants, the rules, coupled with current coronavirus guidance on social distancing, mean that fewer sittings will take place, fewer customers will be served, and less revenue will be taken. This will directly impact employment, with more restaurant and pub staff likely to be furloughed into a scheme that currently runs out in just over a month’s time, while those at work will be, as things stand, enforcing rules which do not have clear parameters but are subject to establishments being fined for not enforcing them.
These rules are also being imposed on venues which, throughout August, were being financially encouraged to trade as much as possible through the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. Over 100 million meals came under the scheme’s purview, as the government encouraged people into hospitality venues to “save” an industry still waiting for concrete policy on its two biggest concerns: rent and staffing. Now they’re being told to leave earlier, but still go, while restaurants make up a minute proportion of coronavirus cases. Now they’re being told to enter environments that are socially distanced, but to leave them all at the same time. Now they’re being told that eating out did not help out.