Sunday, 21 February 2021

Hospitality: no further room for mistakes

I've been told the pandemic may have
already killed off the Belvedere in Liverpool
The constant refrain we have heard from the government during the pandemic is that they are 'following the science', and yet sometimes that is the last thing they appear to do. To give just one example: the insistence that the UK must be open over the whole Christmas period, until a last-minute U-turn limited it to one day. A pandemic cannot be defeated by breezy optimism and a conviction that the British Bulldog spirit will see us through.

The hospitality industry has had many restrictions - some reasonable, some less so - and shutdowns imposed upon it, often at very short notice, causing huge amounts of avoidable waste. It is impossible for pubs and restaurants to order adequate stocks of food and drink to meet customers' requirements while simultaneously be ready to close at the drop of a hat. Food and beer are perishable – real ale particularly because once the cask is opened, it must be consumed in days, not weeks.

A survey across the hospitality sector by Lumina Intelligence found that 67% of businesses wouldn't be able to reopen if the sale of alcohol was banned, with 19% stating that such a restriction would have an extreme impact upon their businesses. Furthermore, the British Beer & Pub Association has found that limiting reopening to outdoor service would leave 60% of pubs closed while causing an estimated drop in turnover for the sector of £1.5 billion compared to normal trading.

Some parts of the national media haven't helped by demanding dates for the lifting of lockdown, with one national paper proclaiming “Free by Summer”. Unjustifiably raising hopes only causes extreme disappointment if they cannot be fulfilled, and is likely to encourage further breaches of restrictions as people conclude that our leaders don't have coherent plans.

Restrictions such as requiring pub customers to have a 'substantial meal' with their drinks, and then debating in public as to whether a Scotch egg constituted one, gave the impression that policy was being made up on the hoof.

Hospitality is rapidly approaching a 'make-or-break' situation; after nearly a year there is now little room for yet more wrong decisions to be made. Let's hope that measures are proportionate and considered, and not based on back-of-the-envelope science and knee-jerk reactions.

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