Cork restaurant owners have hit back at the Government’s justification for the decision to close their establishments at 11pm and to keep pubs shut.
It was decided after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday that the country would not enter phase four of the roadmap to reopening society and business and those in the hospitality industry were further hit with new guidelines.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said “there are people who are taking the proverbial, who are pretending to be restaurants” and that the Government’s decision to shut restaurants and gastro pubs at 11pm was to put a stop to such behaviour.
“I think some publicans will very reasonably be saying, hang on a second, we’re doing the right thing, we are in this together, we’ve had an incredible solidarity, so what is not reasonable is that there are people who are taking the proverbial, who are pretending to be restaurants, who are handing people tokens and pretending that they are acting as restaurants,” said Mr Donnelly.
“That’s not acceptable and it’s not fair to everybody who is doing the right thing, so one of the recommendations from NPHET today is that the closing time is reduced for people being in the restaurant or in the gastro pub.
“The Government has decided on 11pm and really what that’s to do is to make sure that pubs are not saying come in and get your €9 pizza but then stay here for the whole night drinking,” said the minister.
Cork chair of the Restaurant Association of Ireland and restaurateur, Mike Ryan, snapped back at the decision which he said “hammers everyone in operation because of the few”.
“The justification the Government is using for making this move is totally wrong,” the owner of Coqbull and the Cornstore told The Echo.
“Shutting actual restaurants down after 11pm because there were people pretending to be restaurants, when what they should have done is enforced the guidelines.
“Stephen Donnelly openly admitted that it’s been proven around the world that restaurants have not impacted any spike of Covid-19 since reopening.
“He also openly admitted knowing that people are taking the proverbial so instead of policing people correctly, and making sure everyone was on a level playing field, they decided to shut everyone and put a curfew on everyone,” he said.
Restaurants are already operating at 50% capacity and the 11pm closing will see them lose a potential 20% to 30% in revenue due to the loss of later bookings.
Mr Ryan said that people are being “funnelled” into the small amount of opened premises which, he said, is creating a demand that will cause issues surrounding people spilling out onto the street at 11pm and will encourage house parties.
“All they are doing now is facilitating house parties.
“There is now a curfew so people will go back to house parties.
“And what is yet to come out of all this is the potential assaults and sexual abuse that could come from these house parties with no monitoring whatsoever, no protection, no security, and no one watching out for people.”
Mr Ryan said that thousands of euro were put into being responsible and opening safely and yet restaurants that have been doing the right thing “are being treated the same as rogue pubs”.
“It’s a slap in the face for Irish people being told to go home at 11pm. It’s a slap in the face for restaurants and gastro bars and pubs who opened responsibly and had fully operational kitchens before lockdown, got staff back to work, spent money on social distancing and putting procedures in place to operate, and it’s a slap in the face that the Government put their hands in the air and said we can’t police this properly so shut the whole thing down,” he said.
He said that “the last thing that should ever happen is that restaurants, pubs, and hotels that are all in the same predicament would blame one another” and added that all in the hospitality sector rely on one another.
Co-owner of Tabletop, Chris Heinhold, who made the decision to close his city centre boardgame café on its 100th day of closure due to Covid-19, said that the guidelines are “arbitrary” and that designated, controlled environments are being told “you’re not controlled enough”.
Mr Heinhold still runs his restaurant in Bantry which has been taking later bookings that will now be taken away.
“It makes us feel like, ‘what’s coming next’,” he said.
“When they are releasing these guidelines they don’t seem to have any communication within the sector.”
He said that at the beginning of lockdown, he sought an extension on the businesses’ overdraft and was asked for a three-month projection which was almost impossible to know when “nonsensical guidelines like this makes it harder to project what’s going to happen next”.