Restaurants appeal for public support
Restaurateurs said yesterday they hoped the public would regain the confidence to dine out after business slumped in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Industry figures highlighted out that staff in the sector were used to strict hygiene regulations even before the coronavirus rocked the world.
Chris Garland, the general manager of Harbourside Holdings, which includes Flanagan’s Irish Pub on Front Street and Divots in Warwick, said: “It’s all about consumer confidence.”
He added: “If the problem is in the bars then come out and show that statistically, if possible.”
Mr Garland, who is a Chamber of Commerce board member, said that restaurants were “controlled by cleaning and health certificates” even before the pandemic.
He added: “We were always the health conscious or safety conscious industry already, we had regulations in place … before Covid – that wasn’t a big change for us.”
Mr Garland said that limited customer capacities for grocery stores and retailers were not included in the wave of restrictions introduced last month.
He added: “We are happy and fine to follow regulations but it seems as though we’re one of the very few industries that’s being given very strict guidelines.”
Mr Garland agreed that unemployment benefits for people affected by restrictions imposed on bars could not go on indefinitely.
But he said: “That means you’ve got to loosen up the health regulations for us to be able to operate as a normal business and also change the perceived scare position that the country is in because of two to three weeks of cases that caused a lot of negative language around bars and restaurants.”
Philip Barnett, the president of Island Restaurant Group which includes the Pickled Onion and Hog Penny in Hamilton and the Frog and Onion in Dockyard, said there was a need for measures to keep vulnerable people safe.
Mr Barnett added: “We all understand we have a role to play but disproportionately that work is falling to restaurants to sacrifice, falling to hotels to sacrifice, falling to gyms and salons to sacrifice.
“We’re all tired and exhausted of constantly having to sacrifice and we just want to get back to work.”
Restrictions introduced last month included a curfew from 11pm to 5am and a 10pm closing time for businesses.
Gyms were told to operate at reduced capacity and some services were banned in places such as barbers and spas.
But some amendments will be made to the rules after a Cabinet meeting yesterday.
Mr Barnett said that “people just need to feel confident and comfortable in coming out”.
He added: “Restaurants are working incredibly hard to make our establishments as safe as humanly possible through very strict regulations.”
Mr Barnett said that the Department of Health – especially environmental health officers – and David Burt, the Premier, had been “very supportive” in the introduction of measures to help limit potential exposure to the coronavirus.
He added: “We’re very thankful for those efforts – all we ask is that people then recognise how much effort has gone into creating a very safe environment.”
Mr Barnett appealed to residents to support restaurants when they could.
He said: “Everybody needs to recognise, the money they didn’t spend at Christmas on dinners and the money that businesses didn’t spend on dinners, we beg that money be redeployed, when they feel it’s safe to do so, in restaurants.”
Another worker in the industry, who asked not to be named, said that restaurants were busy from last August to October.
She added: “We were actually seeing people coming back, everyone was feeling safe.”
The woman said that a requirement by the Government for bar staff to be tested for the coronavirus – announced last November – created a “fear” that the bug was spread through restaurants.
She added: “Within a matter of two weeks, every single one of our Christmas reservations dropped off.”
The woman, who is a sommelier and assistant manager at a Hamilton restaurant, added: “We feel like we are doing our best to keep people safe.”
A Government spokeswoman said last night that the Ministry of Health aimed to follow science and the best information available in the creation of public health rules.
She added: “Contact tracing investigations point to social gatherings being a distinct element in the transmission of the coronavirus.
“The settings identified are funerals, bars, sports clubs and restaurants.
“With more knowledge and experience now, closures during the most recent spike in infections are limited to indoor bars and nightclubs, while restaurants remain open.
“The ministry continues to refine its approach, working with its partners, so that our economic recovery can gain steam.”
She added: “Restaurants and bars are indoor locations where masks need to be removed.
“This increases the risk of transmission hence they are a bigger risk. Outdoor bars have not been closed.”
The spokeswoman added that restaurants were not “penalised” because their only restriction was to limit table sizes to six.
She said: “They have been able to continue to operate and serve food and alcohol at tables."