Bar and restaurant owners in Greater Manchester have told The Caterer they are in limbo without customers or support as talks over the region's Covid rules continue.
Local leaders have been given a deadline of midday today (20 October) to reach a deal with government over moving the area into the highest-level Tier 3 restrictions, after talks reached a stalemate.
"It's been one of the worst weeks we've ever had," said Kate Matusiak, operations manager at Arcane bar in Manchester. "Our footfall is down about 60%. We're stuck in limbo and it's driving us insane. Do we order stock for the week? Are we going to be open? It's awful.
"At this point we'd prefer to close and be properly supported because at the moment we're slowly dying."
Under Tier 3 rules wet-led pubs and bars will have to close. Restaurants can remain open but face trading in deserted city centres.
Yui Nagama of Yuzu restaurant in Manchester's Chinatown, said weekday customers had disappeared with talk of tightening restrictions.
"Sometimes we only get two tables in one evening, which is really bad," she said. "We still have regular customers and get fairly busy during Fridays and Saturdays, but otherwise it's dead."
Nagama said if Manchester moves to Tier 3 diners will "probably not even come out on weekends".
"I don't know what we'll do, I don't really have a plan yet. I know of restaurants that are closing for the next two weeks just to adapt and save money. Without financial support it's going to be hard and many will inevitably close."
Simon Wood, chef-owner at fine dining restaurant Wood Manchester, accused the government of using ‘scaremongering' language to describe the tier changes.
"It's decimating trade, to be honest," he said. "Restaurants in Tier 2 are no safer than those in Tier 3, but the way it's worded creates a sense of extremity."
Wood's restaurant, which offers five-, seven- and 10-course tasting menus, has already lost 42% of its revenue since the introduction of the 10pm curfew in September.
He sees it as "inevitable" that Manchester will move to Tier 3 and is introducing measures to encourage customers. The restaurant will begin closing on Tuesdays from next week, but the five- and 10-course menus will have 50% off on Wednesday and Thursday.
Wood Manchester has been offering home delivery since May, and it is expected to go nationwide this week.
"We'll have to adapt to survive," said Wood. "Home delivery does give us a bit of a cushion, but we need more of it to take off so I don't have to lose any more staff or close sites, because I've had to do both throughout lockdown.
"I don't want to do 50% off, but it's to make sure that I'm still here to achieve my goals when all this dies down."
Jean-Baptiste Requien, operations director at D&D London, which runs Manchester restaurant 20 Stories, said the government needed to listen to the industry before imposing new rules.
"It is extremely disappointing and frustrating that hospitality is being punished further; we have already lost dining covers on the one household rule and the 10pm curfew, and now we are being punished further with the risk losing huge trade coming from our drinkers."
Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has been holding out for more financial aid for the region if it moves to Tier 3.
Staff of businesses forced to close will have two-thirds of their wages paid by the government under the Job Support Scheme, but Manchester operators warn this will not ensure their survival.
"Wage support is not enough," said Nagama. "If there's no footfall, there's no trade, so we're going to struggle to pay rent and bills. We need more financial help."
The 10pm curfew means staff at Arcane bar have had their hours cut due to early closure, and Matusiak worries how they will manage on reduced pay if the bar is forced to close.
"They've lost a lot of money and we're not making as much in tips," she said. "It's a scary situation and I know most of my staff are living week to week with rent and bills."
Wood questioned why the government was resisting bringing back the 80% furlough scheme that was launched in early lockdown.
"Just be fair and extend the furlough so people can survive," he said. "We don't want any handouts, we just want to be able to get on with it and work through it."
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