As Leeds comes to terms with being placed in the highest level of restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak, hospitality business owners have spoken to the Yorkshire Evening Post of their devastation and fears for the future.
Whilst the month of December would usually generate up to 40 per cent of a bar or restaurant's annual income, they have been forced to close again. Some are now hurriedly trying to create a takeaway offering, some had already put up Christmas decorations in anticipation of reopening next week as the national lockdown ends, while some have just shut up shop because it is not viable.
Bruce Lerman, owns The Hedonist bar, is part of the team behind Rolling Social Events and also runs an events agency, providing staff, bar management, pop-up bars and creative builds.
He said he doesn't think he will be able to viably reopen before March, despite himself and many other hospitality business owners having spent millions on safety and social distancing measures.
Mr Lerman said: "It is pretty abysmal, the hospitality industry has been hung out to dry. I fully appreciate the need for public safety and don't want people to die but the facts that came out last week said 60 per cent of cases coming from track and trace are via supermarkets. I went to a supermarket the other week and it was like a rugby scrum.
He said there is no light at the end of the tunnel for wet led venues because of the money needed to make them food orientated bars.
Chophaus in Oakwood is a steak restaurant which opened in December last year. It traded for three months before having to close. During the first lockdown it did Sunday roasts as 'click n collect' as the usual menu wouldn't convert to takeaway. However, with another enforced closure, one of the partners Chris Walsh, said they are now looking at a specific takeaway menu.
He said: "People don't want to spend £30 on steak to take-away. It is hard to generate extra revenue. All I can ask when this is over is that people come back and support independent businesses. The thing that hurts the most is we put thousands into making it safe and and you can walk into a supermarket and people are clambering over you to pick things off shelves. It does not make sense because there is not as much spread from the hospitality industry."
At Chaophraya, off Swinegate, managing director Ian Leigh said he was almost in tears at the injustice of the ruling. The Thai restaurant is going to try and do take-away options throughout December, but added the situation was "devastating".
He said: "We were looking forward to starting up again. I am stood in the restaurant on my own, we have got the Christmas tree up but the lights are off. It is sad, it almost makes me want to cry, it is desolate."
During the summer spell when Chaophraya was able to reopen, Mr Leigh said they had five COVID related complaints and it was from customers who said safety measures were too strict. The restaurant has several COVID compliance certificates and is open to inspection anytime he added.
"There does not even seem to be the opportunity to prove ourselves, the whole sector has taken a direct hit. I'm incensed by the queues outside supermarkets and when you get in it is absolute mayhem. In our restaurant we have all this (safety measures) what is going on? Supermarkets are essential but equally they should look into the economic state of the nation and this region and people's mental health."
LeedsBID said it welcomed the news that non-essential shops can reopen after investing heavily into safety measures and systems, but is lobbying for further financial support for the hospitality sector.
Meanwhile, the West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce says businesses should be allowed to see the evidence behind the government's rationale for placing Leeds in Tier 3.
Mark Goldstone, head of business representation and policy said: "The UK Chamber network has been clear that businesses need to see and understand the evidence behind these decisions. While the Government has added some clarity about the rationale for which restrictions apply to Leeds and West Yorkshire, they must waste no time in producing a full impact assessment and engage with businesses on how to mitigate the ongoing economic effect.
“A review of tiers on December 16 will provide hope for a way out of the strongest restrictions, but the process by which Leeds can move into new tiers should be transparent and include clear triggers and enough time to allow businesses to plan accordingly.
“There is no substitute for a fully functioning economy. Broad-based mass testing still holds the key to getting employees back into offices, suppliers and customers into shops and international travel and trade back up and running. We will continue to urge the government to redouble their efforts to improve its Test, Trace and Isolate system.”
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