London’s pubs struggle to survive as tier 2 lockdown restrictions prevent households meeting up

Three days into the new regime and some pubs have already seen a  sharp drop-off in trade

Professor Graham Medley says Sage ‘never discussed’ the 10pm pubs curfew

London’s pubs are facing up to higher level restrictions imposed from midnight on Friday and already the effects are being felt.

Three days into the new regime and the Maple Tree, an independent pub in Penge, south London, is much quieter than normal.

“We’ve noticed a massive difference already,” says bar manager Samuel Guirard. “We’re just getting by at the moment but with new restrictions I think we’re going to struggle.  

“I honestly don’t know which pubs round here will still be around this time next year. A lot are going to have to close, definitely.”

The capital had, until now, escaped any extra lockdown measures like those imposed weeks ago including large parts of Lancashire, Merseyside, West Yorkshire, the Midlands and Greater Manchester. But rising case numbers and hospitalisations have put paid to that.

On top of the 10pm curfew imposed nationwide last month, the new high level of restrictions, or tier 2, mean that households can’t mix indoors unless they are in a support bubble. Outdoors, in places like the Maple Tree’s beer garden, friends can socialise as long as they stick to the “rule of six”. The new rules present an obvious problem for bar staff.

“We try our best but what do they want us to do – check people’s tenancy agreements when they come through the door?” asks Guirard.  

“I think the big high street chains like Wetherspoons and Shephard Neame, they have the resources available to fully police it.

“For the local breweries and small independent chains it’s more of a struggle because they don’t have the same resources.”

While the pain may hit the independent pubs first, it is being experienced across the board. Even Wetherspoons announced a £105m annual loss last week. It had previously made a profit in every year since being founded in 1984.

For the whole industry, revenues are now expected to be 50 per cent down over the next six months. Estimates suggest more than a quarter of the UK’s 39,700 pubs may not survive the pandemic.

A tier 2 lockdown is going to be “catastrophic” for pubs and restaurants, says Russell Nathan, head of hospitality at accountancy firm HW Fisher.

“The majority of customers at these venues are from different households and with outside dining soon to be no longer a valid option, how are these businesses supposed to stay in operation?  

“The government needs to provide urgent clarification for the hospitality industry otherwise our favourite restaurants and bars will simply not survive the next six months.”

The contradiction of severely limiting trade without giving additional financial help amounts to a “double punishment” from the government, Nathan said.  

This sense of injustice prompted noisy protests in central London on Monday, with high-profile chef Yotam Ottolenghi joining 200 workers from farmers to events organisers who descended on Parliament Square and made their voices heard.

Mr Ottolenghi, 51, a chef and food writer who specialises in Middle Eastern cuisine, told the PA news agency that the new tier 2 restrictions in the capital will “kill viable businesses”.

“It’s really hard, we’ve got a great industry with lots of heart, and nobody works in the hospitality industry to get rich, we do it because we love what we’re doing – and there’s so many people who depend on it,” he said.

He added: “We really really need proper government support for our staff if we’re going to carry on, because otherwise we just won’t be able to.”

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