New restrictions on operating hours were never going to be a popular measure in the hospitality industry.
But while the order of total shutdown was a shocking blow back in March, there was a general if grudging acceptance that it was a necessary measure to deal with the then unknown virus.
This time round, that tolerance has given way to almost unbridled anger, at a sense a sector which has already endured some of the worst of times is once again being condemned.
For Jonathan Downey, an outspoken advocate of the industry, it was like “executing the wounded”.
Speaking on Good Morning Britain to Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, the Street Feast and Hospitality Union founder did not pull his punches, bemoaning a “government of dunces, a cabinet of covidiots”.
“Why are we being targeted? Why are we being scapegoated? This seems like a distraction, because test and trace isn’t working,” Downey railed.
He accused health secretary Matt Hancock of outright lies, for failing to address the PHE data which shows a negligible link between coronavirus infections and hospitality venues.
“This is going to lead to the closure of thousands of businesses and the loss of perhaps as many as a million jobs in our industry. It is just devastating,” he lamented.
Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin was hardly less measured in his words, despite his at times cosy relationship with fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson.
“I think the Government is out of touch and out of control,” he said.
Echoing a similar theme heard throughout the industry, Martin accused the government of acting on instinct rather than evidence, and assuming pubs to be full of dancing and raucous behaviour.
“Why have they done it? The only thing I can think of is they must have the stats for pubs, very low figures for transmissions, so the reason they have done is it’s for PR reasons.
“They want to be seen to be doing something. A curfew is a bad idea because at the moment there’s relatively low level of transmissions in pubs.”
For Simon Emeny, CEO at Fuller’s there was a sense of exasperation at having bent over backwards to create safe and secure environments, while investing in track and trace, the curfew would inevitably displace people into private homes.
“Our reward for this investment and cooperation is further unnecessary restrictions,” he said.
“The Prime Minister has succeeded in taking people out of the regulated pub environment and encouraging them back to unregulated socialising at home.
“This will not help to contain the virus – instead the largest outcome will be substantial job losses, mainly among young people, across the hospitality sector.”
Meanwhile “the continual lie” that hospitality venues are a hotbed of infection was a source of irritation for Peter Borg-Neal, Oakman Inns executive chairman and founder.
Describing the curfew as “a little pointless”, he said: “The curfew is not going to stop people from socialising, you have got freshers’ week next week. People are just going to leave at 10pm and gather in small bedsits and parties.
“I don’t see much public health benefit but I do see lots of economic damage.”
With 1.5m unique customer visits since opening and no known cases of coronavirus in an Oakman inn, Borg-Neal accused the government of trying to deflect attention from their “incompetence and failure”.
“It’s a political game,” he added.
With pubs only just starting to get back onto their feet, Greene King CEO Nick Mackenzie, called the restrictions are a “significant setback” which could cost the sector dear.
“Removing a key trading period and further damaging customer confidence looks set to cost us several million pounds per week on top of already reduced customer numbers in our pubs to maintain social distancing.
“Given these restrictions and likely timescales we need support from government to avoid further job losses in the hospitality sector in addition to the 135,000 so far.”
Any gains made in August risked being completely erased, according to Kevin Georgel, CEO of St Austell, and deputy chairman of the British Beer and Pub Association.
“This is a very delicate moment in our sector’s recovery and the government must recognise that these new restrictions will inevitably damage consumer confidence.
“Initiatives like the Eat Out to Help Out scheme were hugely successful in rebuilding consumer confidence last month, but that progress is now in danger of being wiped out.
Pubs, though worst hit by the announcement, are not the only ones set to feel the pain.
Des Gunewardena, CEO and co-founder of D&D London said the curfew would be “very damaging” to his restaurants, which have been heavily reliant on weekend and later evening trade, in the absence of weekday footfall.
“This move is a kick in the teeth for central London and in particular the West End where footfall was gradually starting to increase.
“It is very difficult to understand the logic for this decision,” he said.
“It will seriously set back the recovery of city centre restaurants -particularly those in the West End of London.”
Marcos Fernandez, MD Arros QD and Iberica, said while the curfew may not badly affect his own restaurants, described it as a “real disaster” for bars and pubs reliant on late night trade.
“I do not think this is a good policy,” he said. “It is clearly the kneejerk reaction of a government who can’t implement an effective track and trace system, and it is hospitality which is being used as a scapegoat.”
’This is like executing the wounded’
New restrictions on operating hours were never going to be a popular measure in the hospitality industry. But while the order of total shutdown was a shocking blow back in March, there was a general if grudging acceptance that it was a necessary measure to deal with the then unknown virus. This time round, that tolerance has given way to almost unbridled anger, at a sense a sector which has already endured some of the worst of times is once again being condemned.