‘We’ve been left in limbo’ - pub and restaurant bosses on potential July reopening
- Credit: Smokey Joe's
Hospitality bosses say a raft of questions remain unanswered after Boris Johnson announced some businesses in the industry could reopen within two months.
In a television address to the nation on Sunday evening, the prime minister unveiled a three-step plan to ease lockdown restrictions that have been in place since March.
And it was during his explanation of step three of the plan that Mr Johnson revealed “at least some of the hospitality industry” may open “at the earliest by July”.
Further guidance published on Monday emphasised that hospitality businesses and leisure facilities including restaurants, pubs and cinemas will open no earlier than July 4.
But pubs, restaurants, cafes and other entertainment venues have been left wondering what exactly that reopening may look like.
During his announcement, Mr Johnson said: “Step three - at the earliest by July - and subject to all these conditions and further scientific advice; if and only if the numbers support it, we will hope to reopen at least some of the hospitality industry and other public places, provided they are safe and enforce social distancing.
“Throughout this period of the next two months we will be driven not by mere hope or economic necessity.
“We are going to be driven by the science, the data and public health.”
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But just how likely is a July return for Norfolk and Waveney’s hospitality businesses? And would it be feasible to implement social distancing?
Anthony Goodrich, owner of The Rose and Crown in Snettisham alongside his wife, Jeannette, said he expected a summer reopening to come with significant restrictions.
“I think we’ll open in July at best and it will be outdoors only,” said Mr Goodrich. “We do have a really nice garden so we are lucky, but the trouble with Norfolk and the UK is that the weather changes every day.
“If you open up your garden and it’s freezing cold it’s just a waste of time. Right now, for example, there’s a 35mph wind coming in off the North Sea.
“Everything you hear is that pubs and restaurants will be at the back end of the chain. Everyone knows that you cannot run a busy pub and operate with social distancing, but we are meeting our manager this week to discuss how reopening might work.
“The other element to think about is whether the public would want to go to the pub when you cannot meet up with your mates, and will be served by someone in a face mask.”
Since pubs, restaurants and cafes were ordered to close in March, Smokey Joe’s, in Ditchingham, has had to launch a takeaway service in order to survive.
Nigel Flatt, who runs the American bar and grill with his wife Wendy, is optimistic about the prospect of resuming some form of normal service - and confident social distancing would work.
“We’ve been planning as if we won’t open much before July, but unlike the big restaurants we don’t have people crammed in tight,” he said.
“We have 70 seats so we will drop down to 35 if we have to, and the takeaways will continue as another string to our bow.
“We’re trying to get everything in place ready to reopen with social distancing. I’ve already made a Perspex barrier and there will be hand sanitiser around the restaurant.
“In this situation we have to evolve, we have to change. The reality is that, for a while, people are going to feel unsure about coming back.”
But Samantha Taylor, landlady at family-run pub The London Tavern, Attleborough, said there was urgent need for more clarity from the government.
“I just think we’ve been left in limbo,” she added. “It’s been said some hospitality businesses might open in July but I don’t have much hope of that.
“I can be ready to reopen in July, but will it be profitable? Am I going to generate enough money with a handful of people in the pub?
“People go to pubs to be sociable, and social distancing is completely anti-social in its very nature. We’re lucky to have a wide bar, but even if we step back after serving a drink it is still not right.”