The sudden introduction of restrictive measures in Greater Manchester at the weekend was chaotic, but could turn out to be a good thing if the result of the Leicester-lockdown is anything to go by, UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls has told MCA.

Speaking at MCA’s virtual event The Conversation, Nicholls said the rushed announcement meant initially there was “great confusion about what the rules meant, great uncertainty for a lot of customers, and it took quite a long time to get the details of what people were allowed to do in pubs and bars and what they were allowed to do outdoors.”

She said a “lot of cancellations happened early on in that opening period of Friday and Saturday, but now people have settled down and got the clarity and certainty they needed that’s been more reassuring, and it seems to have settled down.”

And she added that operators and customers can “take heart from Leicester” as Greater Manchester put in similar measures when the infection levels were “nowhere near the level they were in Leicester, and the cases came down quite dramatically to allow businesses to reopen today. So hopefully they’ve picked it up at an early enough stage and life can get back to normal relatively quickly.”

She also said similar rises in infections and subsequent specials measures being put in place are “something that we just need to get used to. It is going to happen, we are going to see cases rise, and we need to avoid some of the perhaps over-exaggerated messaging that the media indulges in.”

Karen Bosher, managing director for premium, urban and venture pubs at Greene King, said the business had “80 sites that were affected by this activity. But we’d already start to think ahead and anticipate that local restrictions are likely to be coming in left, right and centre for the foreseeable future.

She said because of the preparation Greene King had already made for the scenario, it didn’t find the swift changes “too onerous”, reverting to two metre social distancing, single household tables, increasing the call to action on trace and trace and enforcing PPE on staff.

“So because of the provisions we had made, we didn’t find it too onerous. We moved back to two metres, we’d got one metre plus, we went back to two metre social distancing protocol and single household tables.

“So there were four clear steps that we deployed, which meant we were compliant with government guidelines, but it is the confusion on the ground with various individual authorities that caused us the biggest problem. A standardised process on how we deal with these things would be helpful.

“When you’ve got enforcement at a local level that is not necessarily in line with government guidelines, or timely with government guidelines, confusion tends to occur.

“This is a big business to keep gearing up and down, but I hope the government does continue to support this style of activity to protect communities, if it has to, and doesn’t reach for the ultimate lever and go to a full lockdown scenario for our industry.”

”We’re prepared for it, but through good pub safety measures we’re hoping to avoid being at the core of any conversations that imply the pub is at the heart of any outbreak. Our responsibility as an industry is to keep our pubs uber safe.”

With UK cases of coronavirus jumping by 938 yesterday, the biggest rise in 38 days, and with speculation increasing that London could be next in terms of special measures or another version of lockdown, Ian Edward, non-executive director at the likes of Thunderbird, Pizza Pilgrims and Hippo, warned that another lockdown would see consumer confidence take a battering, as well as operators. 

“What another serious long spell of lockdown would do to consumer confidence I can only guess,” he said. “My guess would be that it will be terrible, but wait and see if it happens and obviously we all want to get back to normal as soon as we can.

“September and October are going be very tough anyway, we all know that we’ve got a backlog of rents coming back, we’ve got a run up to Christmas, will people want to book celebrations in September or October if we are still under some form of lockdown? And Christmas is obviously one of the most important months for many of our businesses in the sector.

“So there’s lots of uncertainty out there. I think all we can all do as operators and investors is work as hard as we can to look after our customers, and that’s the most important thing. If we look out for our customers they will come back and they will look after us.”