Hospitality businesses in Cork feel they have been moved “back to square one” within months, and in some cases weeks, of reopening.
The sector has been affected by the decision to move the whole country to level three restrictions, with warnings that thousands of jobs are in jeopardy as a result.
Under level three restrictions, restaurants, cafés, and pubs can remain open; however, no indoor seating will be permitted. Instead, a maximum of 15 customers outdoors will be allowed, a move which some in the sector have said is not practical heading into the cold winter months.
A “kick in the teeth” is how one publican described the restrictions — tonight he closes his doors again, just two weeks after reopening.
Steven Hackett of Nana’s pub on Douglas St, Cork, said he had received a great response from the public since reopening and he would have liked to have stayed open, serving customers safely within the Covid guidelines.
“We were doing everything right, contact tracing, sanitising tables, limiting numbers, and customers felt comfortable, happy, and safe,” said Mr Hackett. “It is testing times.”
He said as a leaseholder of the premises, he would now have to pay the rent for the month of October, even though he had only six days of business this month.
“There are still bills to be paid, bills coming in,” he said. “My only source of income is the pub. I have four staff on the books and myself. I’m closing Tuesday night, breweries will be looking for money and the money won’t physically be there. There is no getting away from it.
“I’m trying to do everything right and it feels like I’m at fault. I haven’t done anything wrong. If I’m not abiding by the rules the guards can take my licence, but if there is a house party, all they get is a slap on the wrist.”
Owner of Dukes Coffee Company on Carey’s Lane, Aidan Duke, said that people in his sector feel “disrespected by the Government”.
“It’s an industry that’s treated extremely unfairly,” said Mr Duke. “We’re not eejits, we know what’s going on with public health but all we ask for is a bit of fair play and a bit of notice.
“I let 24 people go in March, we got the staffing back to 18, and now there’ll be 11 or 12 back on the Covid-19 payment and back to square one.”
The café will be operating a takeaway and click and collect service as it had done back in May but Mr Duke said that it is “a different ball game” coming into the winter.
“Last time we did it, it was sunny outside and people were out and about,” he said.
Mr Duke’s neighbour on Carey’s Lane, managing director of Asian street food restaurant Koto, Jeffrey Safar Hamidi, said that he is “very disheartened” to be entering level three restrictions after just over three months of reopening.
“Ireland is the only country in Europe with a ban on indoor dining, and we are now in an impossible situation,” he said Mr Hamidi.
“We need clarity and support from our leaders; I have no answers for my team as to what the next few weeks and possibly longer will hold for us. What will I tell them?”
Mr Hamidi is, however, keeping the restaurant open for takeaways available for collection and delivery.
Cork chair of the Irish Hotels Federation (IHF) Fergal Harte said an earlier survey carried out by the IHF shows a total of 18,600 jobs in the tourism sector in Cork at risk due to Covid-19.
Mr Harte, general manager of The Kingsley Hotel, said that a lot of confidence had been lost in the market once Dublin moved to level three restrictions.
The hotel began to receive cancellations, and new bookings “slowed down completely” with even further cancellations received by the hotel since Monday’s announcement by Taoiseach Micheál Martin.
“On Sunday, the leak in relation to Nphet’s recommendation of going to level five was a huge shock and immediately we started getting cancellations,” he said.
“People get worried and it causes huge uncertainty.
“From there until Monday night when eventually the announcement was made, that just created so much confusion and uncertainty that it really has affected the market from our perspective.
“From the IHF perspective as well, we feel the whole communication process needs a fundamental rethink from the Government in terms of engagement with the industry during the pandemic.
“Back in the summer, we had the good weather and the fact that people were happy to get out of the previous lockdown, all of those factors helped but now we’re facing into a pretty long and bleak winter.”
He said that there is “massive concern” in the industry about “people’s long-term situation in hotels and their livelihoods”.
Mr Harte said that despite it making more sense to move from level two to level three than jumping straight into another national lockdown, hoteliers are still mindful of public health and have always been playing their part in “making sure that everyone is as safe as possible”.
General manager of The Metropole Hotel, Roger Russell, said that the hotel has also dealt with a raft of cancellations and is now limited in the other services it can provide.
“From a local business point of view, I can’t accommodate walk-ins for lunch and dinner, I can only accommodate people who are staying in the hotel,” said Mr Russell. “We have a busy afternoon tea trade here and a brunch on Saturday and Sundays as well and that business is effectively gone and midweek lunch and dinner is effectively gone as well.
“What we’re offering is a dinner and B&B package for guests from the local market who can stay and have dinner in the restaurant with breakfast the next morning.”
Mr Russell voiced the concerns of many businesses across Cork who have spent money on their businesses in order to trade safely.
“People have had to spend an awful lot of money to do up their business to be able to trade under the new normal,” he said. “That costs money and eats into people’s capital reserves and there’s no money coming in.
“The Government needs to step up now and provide grants for business so they can survive this pandemic and be able to reopen at the other side of it or be able to trade through it.”