Pubs and restaurants 'devastated' by long wait to reopen

Oscar Williams-Grut

Pubs and restaurants are "devastated" by the long wait they face to reopen under UK prime minister Boris Johnson's plans to exit lockdown.

The prime minister announced a phased "roadmap" out of lockdown on Monday, setting out a four-part approach to reopening the country.

Johnson said pubs and restaurants could start to reopen for outdoor dining and drinks from no earlier than the 12 April. However, hospitality businesses like hotels, theatres, concert halls, and cinemas will have to wait until 17 May at the earliest to reopen. Pubs and restaurants will also have to wait until mid-May to offer indoor service.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, which represents the sector, said the sector was "devastated that its reopening will be so far away" and warned that thousands of businesses faced going bankrupt before they could reopen unless the government announced more support.

"The chancellor has just nine days to save thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs that simply will not be there without a substantial package of compensation," she said. "According to the latest government data nearly two-thirds of hospitality businesses will run out of cash before May, before they are allowed to re-open."

Almost 65,000 pubs and restaurant have been shut since January, according to property group Altus. Hundreds of theatres and cinemas have also been shut for much of the last year.

WATCH: Boris Johnson explains four-step lockdown exit strategy

Lockdowns have been extremely costly for the hospitality industry. Pub group Mitchells & Butlers, which owns the All Bar One chain, said earlier on Monday it was currently burning £35m per month.

Nicholls said just 40% of pubs and restaurants had outdoor areas, meaning most of the sector would have to wait until May to reopen.

"From the start of November, the sector will have been closed for nearly 200 days, with just a couple of weeks of heavily restricted trading in December," she said.

"This delay in reopening will make the job of survival all the more difficult for businesses only just clinging onto existence."

Ian Wright CBE, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation, and CAMRA National Chairman Nik Antona both saidthe prime minister's announcement was "disappointing."

"A return to ‘business as usual’ seems an awful long way off," Wright said. "As such, it is only correct that the chancellor outlines significant extensions to the furlough and credit insurance schemes as part of his budget announcement next week."

Johnson said on Monday that the chancellor would announce additional support for business next week.

As well as lamenting the slow timetable, industry bosses attacked the government's treatment of the sector. Nicholls accused the government of "repeatedly miscalculated the risks posed by hospitality".

“We know that pubs aren’t vectors for transmission, so ministers must publish the full evidence behind applying restrictions on pubs when the likes of non-essential retail will be able to fully open up sooner and without restrictions," said Antona.

While hospitality leaders were left disappointed by Monday's announcement, investors cheered news that pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen in the near future. Shares in Mitchells & Butlers were up 4.5% shortly after the announcement while pub chain JD Wetherspoon was 8.2% higher and Wagamama-owner The Restaurant Group had rallied 4.5%.

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