Leicester’s Bistro Live dinner and dancing venue could reopen in a month’s time – and is already taking bookings for Christmas.
The popular Charles Street venue has been closed since the start of lockdown, but the owners are now putting plans together to get it back and running.
Mark Henderson and Fred Harlow are staying positive about reopening, despite ongoing restrictions which are pushing many venues to the wall.
They also have Bistro Live venues in Nottingham and Milton Keynes, and are pulling out the stops to give customers a chance for a Christmas celebration – despite accusing the Government of a chronic lack of support and clarity.
Bistro Live opened in Charles Street 20 years ago, offering three course meals followed by live music and DJs. It has space for around 295 people.
They have built a reputation for good food and music and allowing people to let their hair down and dance on the tables.
Bistro Live initially furloughed 35 full-time and 90 part-time workers, but after seven months of lockdown hope to open on November 6.
Capacity will be limited to half, and tables restricted to six people, while the food will become more central to the experience.
Assuming Covid restrictions don’t worsen, evenings will start at 6.30pm and run through to the 10pm national curfew – as opposed to the traditional closing time of 1am.
The music will be more laid-back and they said there will be rigorous cleaning regimes in place, with small “bubbles” of staff to limit interactions.
They also plan lunchtime sessions for the Christmas season, running from 12.30pm through to 3.30pm, and again featuring live music.
Under the new opening plans they are expecting around 120 people a night and are already taking bookings.
Mr Henderson said: “Nearly all late-night venues have had zero income since March, and whilst the furlough scheme helped us, we are now having to use our reserves to pay our people and keep the business afloat.
“Since March, we’ve had to contend with constantly changing rules and regulations – full lockdown for four months, only two households, no live entertainment and no dancing until the middle of September, the ‘rule of 6’ just recently, and to top it all off a 10pm curfew.
“And quite how the new Job Support Scheme – with companies paying a member of staff 55 per cent of their salary (with the government topping it up to 77 per cent) for doing 33 per cent of their normal hours – is going to help businesses recover is quite beyond me.
“We put November 6 in our diaries at the beginning of August after Boris had said everything will be back to normal for Christmas.
“So we said we would open up slowly and try and push the business.
“We had to get the sales offices and phone lines open, then unfortunately things changed with the 10pm curfew and the rule of 6.
“We will certainly be open on November 6 in Nottingham and Milton Keynes, unless things change, and hopefully in Leicester too.
“We hope not to make people redundant. Furlough has been fantastic for us and kept us going, but the new scheme, I think frankly is a waste of time.
“I don’t think anyone can expect the Government to keep funding it forever but the new scheme is a really tough thing for businesses to be able to cope with.
“I also think there’s been a massive lack of support for the businesses that can’t reopen and the 3 million entrepreneurs that have had no support at all.
“We’re almost being classified as an unviable business because of the situation and it’s through no fault of our own.
“We hope we can get open, but there are a lot of businesses that can’t open, and there’s no support.
“If we had to put it off to the spring we would run out of money – we would have to find some funding to keep us going because since March we’ve had very little income coming in.”
He said with furlough ending he expects to see other venues going under, and said even those breaking even were “unbelievably happy”.
Co-director Fred Harlow said: “We’ve been working really hard over the last few weeks to come up with some brand-new ideas, to ensure that we can operate in a safe but fun, social yet distanced way, and to get the venue ready for re-opening.
“The feedback we’ve had so far from our customers has been very supportive, so, as long as the Government don’t change the goalposts again, we’re looking forward to re-opening the business and doing what we do best – great food, great entertainment and a brilliant night out.”
It comes as Rishi Sunak told ITV people “in all walks of life” should look to find new opportunities if they faced joblessness, as he declined to provide further support for struggling workers amid the continuing coronavirus crisis.
The Chancellor told the network: “I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis.
“That’s why we’ve put a lot of resource into trying to create new opportunities.”
He said there were still opportunities in the creative sector, but added: “Can things happen in exactly the way they did? No. But everyone is having to find ways to adapt and adjust to the new reality.”