All remaining restrictions on the hospitality sector in England have been dropped from today, but it remains the beginning of a long road to recovery for many businesses in the sector.
As of today, nightclubs can reopen, all legal limits on the numbers of people meeting indoors and outdoors have been removed, the requirement for table service in venues also came to an end and the government is no longer instructing people to work from home. It is estimated that nearly 12,000 late-night hospitality sites can now reopen.
Maggie's nightclub in London's Chelsea opened at one minute past midnight on Monday after being closed for more than a year and was Inception Group's last site to reopen.
"It felt quite emotional to see the team together again for the first time in over 16 months," co-founder Charlie Gilkes told The Caterer. The venue is only operating at half its capacity for now but Gilkes said it could have been filled "ten times over".
"The phone didn't stop ringing – demand was off the charts. We're just starting slowly. We don't want to overwhelm the staff," he said.
"It was a great atmosphere. It was a really positive night. All of the guests were very compliant with the measures we've taken. Everyone was in great spirits."
However, there was some confusion surrounding Covid certification in the industry. Although both the health secretary and prime minister originally said ‘vaccine passports' would not be required to enter venues, they later urged events, nightclubs and venues with large crowds to make use of the certification.
Certification is not mandatory for businesses, but in published guidance the government said it "reserved the right" to force venues to require certification "at a later date if necessary".
"We've been told for the last two months that we wouldn't be adopting Covid passports to being told five days from reopening that we're being urged to use Covid passports. A lot of our target audience is the 18-25-year-olds who haven't had the ability to get a second jab yet, so it's really punitive on those guys," said Aaron Mellor, chief executive of Tokyo Industries, which runs 45 UK nightclubs and music venues.
Several of his sites reopened in the early hours on Monday but will not be requiring vaccine passports. The group is recommending staff continue testing and wearing masks, but it is not mandatory.
Jane Longhurst, chief executive of the Meetings Industry Association (MIA), urged members to "move forward cautiously", recognising that the government guidance "leaves so much to the judgement of business operators".
The MIA's own guidance will encourage venues and event organisers to continue asking attendees to wear face masks.
Pub group JD Wetherspoon has reverted to the measures from when pubs reopened in England after the first lockdown in July 2020. The group said facemasks would be made available for employees and customers to wear "at their discretion".
Chairman Tim Martin said the measures were "a sensible backstop for the industry and strike a fair balance between health, employment and the economy".
Oakman Group is continuing to provide table service only across all its pubs.
All parts of Scotland moved to level 0 this week, but hospitality is still under a midnight curfew along with other restrictions. It is still expected that Scotland will move ‘beyond level 0' on 9 August. Wales' move to level zero is hoped to take place on 7 August.
But the pandemic's impact on the hospitality industry across the UK is far from over, with staffing and debt still a huge concern for many businesses.
Around one in five hospitality staff are self-isolating due to rules around coronavirus contact tracing, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls told MPs last week, with the figure forecast to rise to about a third of the industry's workforce.
Nicholls reiterated calls for a test to release programme to "keep people safely in work" and allow businesses to keep trading. Gilkes backed this call after having been forced to close three of his venues recently.
"I live in a perpetual state of anxiety for when I'm going to get the next phone call about us not having enough staff to operate a site," he said.
"It's going to absolutely cripple the UK economy. Hospitality seems to have been the canary in the coalmine here, but it's obviously now affecting the NHS, tube networks, refuse collection and it could bring the country to an absolute standstill unless they develop a more sensible way forward."
Although no major issues have so far been reported regarding the supply chain, Tevin Tobun, chief executive of logistics and distribution firm GV Group, said he expected there will be incremental pressures on the sector in the next few weeks as people start going back to work.
James Bielby, chief executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD), added: "Food distributors have met the challenge of Freedom Day but no one is complacent about their ability to sustain sufficient supply over the coming weeks. The shortage of delivery drivers will only be made worse if vaccinated, tested drivers are forced to isolate. We're also seeing staff shortages in distribution depots, where a team can be wiped out by a single alert. Food manufacturers have the same issues, so we have the worst-case scenario of increased demand and reduced supply.
"That's going to be very tough on hospitality businesses, particularly those in remote and costal locations, who have waited so long to reopen. We're asking the government to exempt food supply chain workers from self-isolation if they are double-jabbed and regularly test negative."
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