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Bars welcome curfew relaxation but say more help needed

The bar area at the Frog & Onion Pub in Dockyard (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

An extra hour to serve customers will benefit restaurants – but restaurateurs said more action must be taken to help them keep their doors open.

Phil Barnett, head of the Island Restaurant Group which operates the Frog & Onion Pub and Hog Penny restaurants among others, said anything to help restaurants return to regular operations was positive.

But he added that it could take years for the restaurant industry to recover losses caused by the “terrible, year-long economic nightmare”.

Mr Barnett said: “Even if we could snap our fingers and return back to how things were pre-Covid, the losses our industry have collectively suffered over the last year will take multiple future years to recapitalise, never mind begin to get a return on investment.

“Reports from the industry show that numbers are still nowhere near what they were a year ago.

“To have been forced to effectively close again during what historically is a busy time bringing in much needed revenue prior to the start of the winter doldrums – just added to our pain.”

Mr Barnett said the recently concluded Restaurant Weeks promotion had helped increase numbers, but restaurants were forced to turn away customers on busier Friday and Saturday nights because of capacity constraints.

He added that the industry would need “long term and sustained” relief – and a return to normal operation – in order to fully bounce back.

Mr Barnett added: “In the US they are discussing grant packages of up to $5 million per restaurant unit to alleviate restaurants losses and to help them get back on their feet.

“As our Government doesn’t have the money to support Bermudian restaurants the same way, we will need sustained and long lasting relief to ameliorate over time the incredible losses restaurants have racked up.”

The comments came after Government announced that it would allow restaurants to remain open until midnight instead of 11pm and lift the midnight curfew.

Karl Massam, the chair of the restaurant division of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, said the additional hour would benefit restaurants.

He added: “Rushing customers from their dining tables at 10.55pm is certainly not conducive to the standard of service we strive to provide.”

Mr Massam, who runs several restaurants on Front Street including Port ’O’ Call, said he had hoped the Government would allow restaurants to restart seated bar service to provide a greater benefit.

He said: “Currently two of our three bar spaces are operating at 15 to 20 per cent of capacity, with the third indefinitely closed as it is just not a viable space either financially or operationally under the current constraints.

“The loss of bar sales has been of huge detriment to both turnover and personnel, incurring Bermudian job losses owing to the lack of need for bartenders within our outlets.”

Mr Massam said consumer confidence did appear to be bouncing back – but the change has been slow.

He said: “We certainly saw an uptick in business over the weekends during the month-long Restaurant Weeks.

“People are wanting and willing to come out but we then suffer the frustration of turning away some eager guests, as our dining rooms now reach capacity at much lower numbers due to the required spacing.

“Unfortunately, our business models do not allow for us to operate at the new ’full’ two nights of the week, whilst desperately vying for business for the remaining five days of operation.”

Mr Massam said the “million dollar question” was what relief measures could be used to help the industry bounce back and prevent closures.

He said: “The lack of relief is by no means a criticism of our Government – without their constructive and assured actions we would find ourselves in a far worse predicament, much like many of our peers overseas.

“However, the conversation must commence if we are to move forward together creating the foundations of a stronger Bermudian economy.”

Chris Garland, the general manager of Harbourside Holdings, which includes Flanagan’s Irish Pub on Front Street and Divots in Warwick, said the extra opening hour was helpful, but the removal of the curfew would likely be more beneficial element of the relaxations.

He explained that the one hour between closing and the end of curfew left a tight window for staff to close up and return home.

Mr Garland said: “They often have not been able to finish up all the evening duties, so that change will be a big help on the operations side.

“We are not really in a late night drinking market right now, so the extra hour just gives us the ability to extend dining on the weekends by a little bit.”

He said that there appeared to be a link between the number of Covid-19 cases and people’s interest in dining out.

Mr Garland said: “Last summer we reached a point where we had zero new cases for a few weeks and things were looking really well.

“Then December came and we all got murdered on our Christmas sales.”

He also said he also hoped the Government would consider ways to allow restaurants to safely restart bar service, adding that the lack of tips had cost bar staff dearly.

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Published February 18, 2021 at 8:07 am (Updated February 18, 2021 at 8:07 am)

Bars welcome curfew relaxation but say more help needed

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