The independent London newspaper

Fears new rules on socialising could ruin hospitality business

Islington pub and restaurant bosses say coronavirus restrictions on groups are ‘a step backwards’

11 September, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson

Founders Sam Robson, Georgi Radev and Steve Kyprianou at the Laki Kane

LANDLORDS and restaurateurs say new restrictions imposed this week on large gatherings are “a step backwards” and have warned the measures could ruin hospitality businesses in the borough.

Prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Wednesday that there would be a ban on gatherings of more than six people in all settings other than weddings, funerals, work places, schools and organised sporting events.

The new restrictions have dented the hopes that many pubs and restaurants had taken from the month-long “Eat Out To Help Out” scheme.

The Tollington Arms in Holloway

Martin Whelan, who runs the Tollington Arms in Holloway, was getting ready to open his doors for the first time since the start of lockdown this week, but said the news has thrown everything up in the air.

“This government doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing,” he said. “We worked hard for weeks to get ready to open up again on Thursday and then we’re told at 10pm on Tuesday night that our numbers are going to be restricted.”

He added: “We can’t change it now. We’ve already spent money on it, we’ve got the staff sorted and bought the beer, so we’ll have to open. We know there is a crisis, but this government is causing havoc with people’s lives. They are making this up as they go along.”

Marcus Harris from the Lexington

Pentonville Road music venue the Lexington has yet to reopen its doors. Marcus Harris, who helps run the pub, said they had decided not to hold gigs because the capacity with social distancing in the venue is only around 30 people.

Speaking about the new restrictions, he said: “The concern would be that this is a step backwards. There was the ability to have gigs, and that was a step forward for the industry that  just wasn’t going to work for us. But at least it was a route back to normality.”

Wondering why the racing in Doncaster was allowed to go ahead on Wednesday, Mr Harris added that “it just all seems quite arbitrary”.

Sam Robson, operational director of Upper Street cocktail bar and Thai restaurant Laki Kane, said the restaurant was waiting to see what the finer details of the new restrictions are, but added that their policy was not to have tables any bigger than six anyway.

The Lexington music venue in Pentonville Road

“We had a great August, and are continuing the offer through to the end of September.

“We will have to wait and see what these changes mean for us, but we’re hopeful that it won’t cause too much disruption,” he said.

The owner of Japanese restaurant Tenshi, in Upper Street, Joe Mossman, also said he was hopeful of weathering the new restrictions, but added any more would damage business.

“The worry is whether greater restrictions follow,” he said. “This could be the thin end of the wedge, and if we start to see takeaway-only restrictions such as in Bolton or limited opening hours, then that will be a real problem on top of the year we’ve had.”

Mr Johnson said this week: “We need to act now to stop the virus spreading. So we are simplifying and strengthening the rules on social contact – making them easier to understand and for the police to enforce.”

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