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Restaurants Fear New COVID Restrictions Will Push Diners Away

UK Hospitality boss says new restrictions — including compulsory mask-wearing and working from home — necessitate new financial support

Boris Johnson Leads Coronavirus Press Conference
Bossman Johnson announced new COVID-19 restrictions to halt the spread of the Omicron variant and to shift the narrative away from the cheese and wine party at his house
Adrian Dennis-WPA Pool/Getty Images

The U.K.’s principal trade body for restaurants and pubs has called on the government to offer additional support measures to hospitality venues after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new COVID-19 restrictions — the so-called Plan B — which only minimally impact those venues directly.

After an absolutely vintage day at the helm, Johnson was back behind the lectern issuing new guidance, which is due to come into force next week, Monday 13 December: Face coverings will be compulsory in all public settings, everyone should work from home if they can, and the so-called “Covid passports” will be introduced at nightclubs and other large venues, such as football stadiums.

Beyond mask-wearing, which is a comparatively low-intervention move 20 months into the pandemic, restaurants are left wondering whether a wider drop in public confidence could impact their ability to trade during its busiest time of the year — and, indeed, whether there will be a new nervousness among staff members. (To avoid the repeat of the summer’s “pingdemic,” rapid-flow testing will replace mandatory isolation for those who are notified of a contact with a case.)

And while restaurant owners and their employees are left to how this plays out over the next fortnight, the boss of the principal hospitality trade body has gotten on the front foot: “While the government clearly acknowledges that hospitality is safe and can continue to host celebrations in the lead up to Christmas, the measures announced [yesterday] will significantly impact consumer confidence and be particularly devastating to city and town centre venues,” chief executive UK Hospitality Kate Nicholls said after Johnson’s address.

“As such, they risk devastating the hospitality sector amid its most important time of the year,” Nicholls added. “We therefore desperately need support if we are to survive this latest set of restrictions and urge the government to stand behind our industry. That means full business rates relief, grants, rent protection, and extended VAT reductions. Anything less would prove catastrophic.” There has been no suggestion that any such support measures will be forthcoming, beyond those, such as the VAT reduction, which are still in place from earlier in the pandemic. It is highly unlikely that the government would offer such additional support when it can easily point to the fact that hospitality remains open.

However, some restaurant owners are already nervous about the direction of travel in government communications. John Devitt, who co-owns Japanese udon noodle group with chef Shuko Oda, told Eater London this lunchtime that the risks with the Omicron variant and new restrictions were many. “If this is more transmittable, then there will likely be times when our staff are out of work with either the virus or contact tracing,” he said. “We have not had to close a restaurant yet but the anxiety is heightened...

“[...] with the Plan B narrative, there is likely going to be a drop in visitors to Soho or [the] City which leads to less business. Urging the population to work form home or stay at home is bad for business, without support from the government is going to hurt. Which leads in to consumer confidence on a whole getting pushed back.

“There is not much to look forward to with the negative narrative from the government and no support.”