What a year. Coronavirus? Ah, it’ll be reyt. A lot of people were more worried about Glastonbury being cancelled than they were about getting the virus. But as the months have gone on, things have changed a fair bit. To date, there have been over 635,000 cases in the UK and over 43,000 deaths, which is mental. This week Sheffield was put in ‘Tier 2’ of the 3 tier system for restrictions in a bid to try and slow the spread of the virus.
Since March 23rd, when the first lockdown was enforced, everybody’s lives have changed. School closures, cancelled holidays and a national shortage of loo roll, no one would have believed that this is what 2020 would be like. Between March to June, things were incredibly tough for the hospitality sector with businesses pretty much all closed. Thankfully, a little relief came from the furlough scheme, which helped cover wages.
July brought hope with pubs, bars and restaurants being allowed to re-open. Hurrah! Well, was it? Not really. A lot of places weren’t prepared to reopen, and those that did had to make changes. Adapting to social distancing and the uncertainty surrounding the situation meant that businesses were just about getting by. They’d had to work hard to even open and then they were hit with another challenge. The no-shows. The people booking tables and just not turning up. What’s that about?
“2020 has been a year of ‘what ifs’ and cultural changes for generations.” John Asquith, co-owner of Nook.
The Government stepped in once again in August and introduced the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. Did it help? Massively. Turns out COVID-19 is less scary when food is half price. Many cafes and restaurants were fully booked every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in August. Whilst it might have helped bring more money in, businesses were still struggling from a3 month lockdown and the other August days weren’t exactly heaving…
But since then, the hospitality sector has been treading water and the latest restrictions have left them struggling to stay afloat.
Something needs to change.
“It’s a tough time and it’s more important than ever to support your local indie businesses.” Gavin Martin, co-owner of Neepsend Brew Co.
We caught up with some of the people behind Sheffield’s hospitality sector to see how they’ve been dealing with this unexpected year.
Joe Cribley, owner of Kelham Island Bar, Pina, said: “Since reopening we have adapted in many ways to adhere to new (and constantly changing) guidelines. It’s obviously within our interest and desire to create the most safe environment we can, and that’s true of any business owner.
“Many things have been dictated to us – some of which make sense and some of which do not – but we’ve also introduced loads of additional policies ourselves to help us operate safely and practically.
Some of the measures we have introduced include providing hand sanitiser at the entrance and on every table, altering shift patterns to minimise the amount of different people working together to try and create bubbles, and investing £2,000 in new till systems and additional furniture in order to facilitate the change of operation. It’s a fairly exhaustive list but there are plenty more things we’ve had to do operationally.”
Symptoms for COVID-19 can take up to 2 weeks to show, so by now we should be seeing a drop in cases. However, the results are the opposite and they peaked at 22,961 on the 4th October, with the vast majority not stemming from the hospitality sector.
Not only have pubs, bars and restaurants gone over and above with their safety measures, venues such as The Forum, Wick At Both Ends, Lucky Fox and The Grind have all temporarily closed their doors after COVID-19 cases were linked to the venue or staff members. This is something they did themselves with no financial support.
On Monday, the Government announced a new 3 tier system which makes sense. They’ve already been enforcing local lockdowns in areas with high COVID-19 cases, instead of locking down the whole country. Again, this makes sense. Although… it doesn’t seem to have had much of a positive impact on the places that had already been in local lockdown.
Sheffield, along with a lot of the North and London as of today, is in ‘Tier 2’. The tier which pretty much only targets the hospitality sector. Schools are still open and people can still go and lift weights at the gym. You can still go to work and spend 8 hours a day sharing an office with people from different households, people who’ll probably make you a cuppa and share their hobnobs.
What you can’t do though, is go to a pub, bar or restaurant with somebody from a different household unless you sit outside in October and freeze your hobnobs off. But precautions wise, these places are some of the safest around.
John Asquith, owner of Nook, said: “As of the new covid rules… Where do I begin? The inability to go out from different household blows my mind. There is nowhere safer for people to go than the bar and hospitality industry. It has rules, it is regulated and it is managed, where as homes are not.
“When people’s inhibitions waver due to drink then we are able to bring them back to reality, that doesn’t happen at home. Not to mention this will impact us dramatically in cash flow and the overall ability to survive.”
These new restrictions will make it not viable for businesses to open as the figures just won’t add up. Margins are already tight, but they’re going to be even tighter now that there will be less customers. Essentially, the government are shutting down the hospitality sector without committing to support the businesses financially.
This doesn’t just affect the business and the staff. It affects the suppliers, other local businesses, the community and the customers who rely on these places for their mental health.
Alexandra Piotrowska, Pub Manager at The Florist, said, “Tier 2 is definitely the worst tier as it’s absolutely pointless. It will be either people lying about their bubble to be able to meet in bigger groups or pubs having no or very little trade. Our maximum capacity pre-Covid was 150, which, on busy days, probably didn’t exceed 100. But now we’re left with roughly around 20 customers.
How are we supposed to pay the rent? How are we supposed to survive without any financial help? As bad as it sounds, we’d much prefer to be forced to close. Then at least we would get support.”
Joe Cribley, owner of Pina, continued: “My biggest concern is the constant changing of direction. In July, it was a maximum of 6 people, 2 households per table, no PPE, and no curfew. Then in August, no limit on households. September brought rules of 1 household, PPE and a 10pm curfew.
“The Government’s own data shows less than 5% of infections are transmitted in hospitality venues. I’ve not heard of any business owner who wouldn’t shut their doors immediately if they thought they were the cause of COVID infections. But with the Government’s stats and a 10pm curfew, the hospitality industry is being marginalised, punished, and made an example of – and for what? I don’t know.
“In terms of where we are now, I’m in a position of considering having to close long term until conditions change because we simply aren’t able to earn enough money to sustain wages, rent and all other costs. It’s a simple mathematical equation and they are tightening the noose around our neck with every policy. The reality of that would lead to 12 redundancies and a business potentially going into liquidation. This is not a positive for anyone, least of all the Government.”
These announcements didn’t come as a surprise though. Many places had already started putting up marquees with outdoor heaters as autumn kicked in. Surely social distancing will go out of the window when people are huddled around a heater?! This is not beer garden weather after all!
We’ve already seen two of Sheffield favourites, The Devonshire Cat and The Great Gatsby, close their doors for good in the last few months. If things continue as they are, then we expect to add more names to the list.
Will Sykes, owner of Society, on Ecclesall Road said: “We’ve decided to close Monday – Thursday as it is not viable to open weekdays with how little business there is. We’re worried for the weekends as the majority of people do not go out with their families/household. Not only are we not getting custom, but we risk hefty fines as well if people ignore the rules and mix households. None of it makes any sense and defies all logic.”
Wednesday was the first night with the new restrictions in place, and it was grim. We went for a beer(s) and burger at Triple Point. We sat outside under a heater. It was just about bearable but in a few weeks, when it gets properly cold, that won’t be the case. This can’t be a long term solution.
Thankfully though, this isn’t the case for everyone. South Street Kitchen has remained open and has been mostly unaffected. Tom Snelling, Assistant Manager at South Street Kitchen said: “We are blessed with spacious indoor and outdoor seating, and with fabulous customers who support us daily. We are optimistic going forward. Whilst new guidelines bring new challenges, we are aware that so many others have been hit hard and we hope that all the wonderful independent businesses, not just in Sheffield but across the country, are able to keep serving.”
However, Blue Ball Inn landlady, Emma Shepherd, admitted: “Last night was rubbish. We were 75% down on the week before.”
Ashley Kerr, General Manager at The Hare and Hounds, added: “It’s a joke, our pub has been open from 12pm and we’ve taken about £300. That’s not sustainable… .”
In September, there was 2.7 million people unemployed – more than double pre-March. With the furlough scheme ending at the end of this month, it is extremely likely that that will increase massively and the stress on the hospitality sector could see a further 500,000 job losses!
Something needs to be changed for the city to survive.