It has always been a secret dream of mine to open a juice and smoothie bar; a frivolous ambition I have cherished for years. For some reason, growing up, the hospitality industry struck me as strangely alluring. Today, I can only look on with sympathy at a sector that is struggling to stay afloat on the rough seas of this pandemic.
Last Monday, the prime minister Boris Johnson unveiled his post-lockdown plans for England, which will see “toughened” three-tier regional measures return from 2 December. Yet again, it appears that the biggest casualty of the new restrictions will be the hospitality industry.
As it stands, a curfew of 11pm is expected to be enforced under Tier 1 restrictions, alcohol without a “substantial meal” will be prohibited within Tier 2 regions and Tier 3 is, in essence, a glorified lockdown. In Scotland, hospitality establishments under Level 1 are expected to close by 10:30pm while alcohol can only be served with a main meal under Level 2 regulations. Alcohol sale is prohibited within Level 3 areas and Level 4 will see hospitality establishments closed without exception. Eleven local authority areas across central and western Scotland are currently subjected to Level 4 restrictions.
These harsher measures have been branded “totally unacceptable” by Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, while Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, likened Tier 2 regulations to a death sentence for pubs and restaurants.
Indeed, the latest restrictions have dealt a severe blow to the already battered industry. Less than a week ago, a poll conducted by the British Beer and Pub Association, the British Institute of Innkeeping and UKHospitality revealed that 72% of hospitality firms fear becoming financially unviable and being forced to close permanently in the next year. Pre-Covid, the sector was valued at £133.5 billion but by February 2021, there will be 750,000 fewer jobs in the sector compared with earlier this year.
With a nail-biting few days before it is announced on Thursday which regions fall in each tier, there is exasperation within a sector that feels the government cannot expect businesses to switch themselves on and off at its will without suffering severe consequences. The positive vaccine news of the last few weeks has offered hope that some level of normality may return in the not-too-distant future, but without a systematic plan of action and targeted support for the hospitality sector, some people are worried that there won’t be much of an industry left to reopen.