Pub and restaurant owners in Worcestershire have spoken of their dismay at being given just a few hours’ notice of being told to close.
Owners and managers were ‘frustrated and angered’ as they heard the announcement by Matt Hancock at 3pm on Wednesday (December 30) that hospitality venues must close before New Year’s Eve.
That gave them just eight hours to sell food and drink bought in for the end of year celebration, leaving them thousands of pounds out-of-pocket.
Hossey Saghri, owner of The Mug House Inn & Restaurant in Bewdley, said he was ‘fully booked’ for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day but it was the lack of notice that really disappointed him.
He said: “We were given nine hours’ notice. Of course we have got to take action but just give us some more forewarning. They can clearly see the trend. But we never for one moment thought we would be given just nine hours’ notice.
“We had 90 customers booked from 5 to 9.30pm and over 100 for the whole day.
“All our customers come to us because we are one of the safest places they can go to.
“We are lucky, we have been able to open for the majority of December, but we have been operating at 40 per cent capacity. We will have been lucky to break even.”
Mr Saghri had taken over the business 13 months ago and has been closed for five of them. The year started with floods in Bewdley and then he had the long first lockdown.
The business was able to open in summer but had to close again in November’s second lockdown. And now has been hit by a third closure notice – but this time was dismayed that the short notice will leave him thousands of pounds out of pocket.
He had a special menu lined up for New Year’s Eve.
He said: “We have to buy the stock, the food in. You get all your staff to commit to working. Just a little bit more forewarning would have helped.
“I suspected we were going in to Tier 3, but without any stock, we couldn’t serve our customers if we were able to open. We were caught between a rock and a hard place.”
And the closure comes as a hammer blow to the business’s finances.
He added: “We had £3,000 during the second closure but that doesn’t even touch the sides.
“It’s great the staff are looked after but I have PAYE and pensions to pay. I have to pay for stock and part of the rent. Refrigeration has to be kept on and my utility bills are huge. It also costs thousands to restock and reopen and you’ve had no money coming in.
“The most important thing is we still have our health. We can replace money, we can’t always replace health.”
His views were echoed by Katie Lewis, the landlady at the nearby White Swan in Bewdley, who took over the business at the end of the first lockdown.
The pub adapted to selling food to comply with the Government’s Tier 2 rules and was fully booked for New Year’s Eve with 39 people. Guests were to be treated to a festive menu with food being prepared in slow cookers as the announcement was made.
The 26-year-old said: “We have now got a lot of food I’m going to waste and I am going to have to reimburse people that booked. It was that money that paid for the food.
“We had all extra bits for New Year’s Eve. It’s just a bit sad. Everybody was looking forward to saying goodbye to 2020 and just trying the make the best of it.
“When we got to the 30th I did think maybe they would let us open. It’s absolutely gutting.”
Ms Lewis said she had a rush on Wednesday as people heard the closure announcement. She had to call staff in, but her New Year’s Eve food was not ready. She said she has been ‘teacher and policeman’ to get people to comply with the Covid restrictions. And she has concerns for early 2021.
“Now it’s the uncertainty and unknowing of how long we are going to close for,” she said. “I’m sure I’ll figure something out. I may need to get a job in Tesco. I’d rather help out.”
Sami Wright, landlady at The Weary Traveller in Kidderminster, had adapted her pub too – serving food in December to reopen. And she had been gearing up for New Year’s Eve.
She posted on Facebook and said: “As I close my doors for the third time this year, I just want to say a massive thank you to you all for your continuous support under the circumstances.
“Without you guys I wouldn’t be here now. It’s been an emotional year with lots of highs and also lows. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
While closed in January, she will be running 50 miles to raise money for cancer support charity Maggie’s Centres.
Ms Wright added: “So here’s to 2021 . Let’s make the pub as brilliant as always. I’m going to take some well earned rest with my family. Happy new year.”