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'It's soul-destroying': Last minute decision on indoor dining leaves hospitality on tenterhooks

From wasted food to cancelled bookings, an extension of restrictions could mean large losses for pubs and restaurants.

A LAST MINUTE extension of restrictions on indoor dining could mean large losses for pubs and restaurants that have been preparing to reopen next week.

Hospitality venues have been looking towards a reopening of indoor dining on 5 July in line with the current government plan.

However, the restrictions may be extended until the middle of the month over concerns about the spread of the Delta variant.

The decision, which would come less than a week before venues were due to reopen, would mean that thousands of bookings would be cancelled and perishable food could go to waste.

Brian Renaghan, a publican in Monaghan, needed to place a keg order by 12pm today to receive the delivery before next Monday.

“My keg order had to go in, so I had to place it,” Renaghan told The Journal

Before the pub can reopen, “there’s things you need to do, all the wee fiddly things that you don’t think of”.

“All my glassware has to be rewashed every so often to keep it right. The coolers have to be switched on and switched off once a week. I have to have my kegs into a cooling system for about four days before reopening to get everything at the right temperature,” he said.

Similarly, Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland (VFI), said there is “absolutely” a risk of food going to waste.

Speaking to The Journal, Cribben said that “suppliers have got to decide ‘are we going to deliver or are we not going to deliver’.”

“There are people planning, on the supplier side, the whole food question of dealing with perishable products,” he said.

“We’ve experienced this on a number of occasions last year where we were ready and then it didn’t happen.

“If you take places that were closed down quickly, like Kildare, Laois and Offaly last year, there were losses of anything up to €10,000, €15,000, €20,000 in individual outlets.”

Outdoor dining 005 Outdoor dining in Dublin during rainy weather Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

In Galway, restaurateur Jp McMahon said that several thousand euros worth of food could go to waste if restaurants can’t reopen next week.

However, an even larger concern for him is that an extension of the restrictions would mean cancelling reservations for around 2,000 people.

McMahon, who owns two restaurants that have been closed for six months and one that has been closed for 18 months, said that the cancelled bookings would mean a loss of around €80,000 at an average spend of €40 per person.

“One week in July is worth a whole month in the winter. If we lose two weeks at the start of July, that’s effectively two months takings that we’re going to have to cover in the winter,” McMahon told The Journal.

“It’s difficult personally and emotionally because how long do you keep saying it’s going to be grand and we’ll just bite the bullet and open – at some point, we’ll have to make a decision and whether that decision is a personal one saying we’ve had enough of this and need to find a different career, or we close a restaurant or two, I don’t know,” McMahon said.

The sector is harmonious in saying that the government should communicate directly with stakeholders and provide timely information, instead of “drip-feeding” details.

“I can’t run a business like that,” Renaghan said.

“I’m along the border and I can drive five minutes from my pub to another pub that’s open in the North indoors. The outdoor dining doesn’t work along the border because people are just travelling across the border where they can drink indoors,” he said.

It’s soul-destroying. When you’re after spending a lifetime building up a business and the people who were there before you building it up, for this to happen and to see all your customers migrate across the border.”

“This thing of leaving it to the last minute is not on. When they said the 5th, that was fair enough, we all knew it was the 5th.

“If there was any doubt, they should have been coming out last week and saying listen here, we’re going to stall this – at least let us know. It’s the not knowing that is a killer. When you don’t know, that is the worst part of it.”

The Vintners Federation of Ireland is aware of around 25,000 to 35,000 staff who are still waiting to return to work in the pubs industry.

Cribben said that it is “difficult to see what the benefit is going to be by delaying by two weeks”, but that the harm to the sector from losing two weeks of the summer would be immense.

“A week or two in July is the equivalent of two months in January-February,” he said.

“There’s a window of opportunity for staycations from today until the end of August. That’s about ten weeks. If you lose one or two of those, you’re not just losing a week, you’re possibly losing 25% of the busiest period in year, which would be the difference between viability and non-viability for a lot of businesses.

“That’s not sustainable at any time and it’s certainly not sustainable when you’ve been closed for such a long period of time,” he said.

There were 210 confirmed cases of Delta in Ireland as of last week, with estimates that over 20% of new Covid-19 cases are a result of the variant.

The Delta cases are identified through a process called full genomic sequencing, which takes several weeks, meaning that there is a delay between taking a test swab and getting confirmation that it was due to Delta.

The European Centre for Disease and Prevention Control (ECDC) expects that 70% of new infections in the EU will be due to the Delta variant by the start of August.

Under the provisional plan announced by the government, a series of restrictions were earmarked for lifting or scrapping on 5 July, including indoor services in restaurants and bars.

The number of people allowed at wedding receptions is due to increase from 25 to 50, as well as larger numbers at organised indoor and outdoor events.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is meeting today to consider its advice to government on the measures that would be safe to take from a public health perspective.

Cabinet is then expected to meet tomorrow to discuss the advice and make a decision on the reopening.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said today that a delay to indoor hospitality is “not inevitable”, but government sources have said that it would be nearly impossible to reject public health advice if it recommended a delay.

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