Pubs and restaurants will be able to apply for cash grants of up to £6,000 per premise under a new government scheme after rising Omicron cases have caused dramatic numbers of Christmas bookings to be cancelled.
But the package has been deemed insufficient without long-term VAT cuts and grants for the self-employed after a growing number of Christmas cancellations add to worries that many hospitality businesses won't survive.
The sector, which is often a major market for small-scale and sustainable food suppliers, has been calling for urgent support since the new variant started to gather pace.
Some pubs have closed after facing mounting cancellations, while others have warned about loss of livelihoods and food waste.
The head chef at organic pub The Duke of Cambridge in Islington, north London, shared a photo of the diary for the next week with every booking cancelled.
Writing on Instagram, Peter Wheedon said: “It’s not right that the government position has kept pubs open but to have the scientist lead the call to avoid social contacts. It is unfair to lay this at the door of the industry. About time the government took its responsibility and supported the situation it has engineered.”
The pub has since said it will close until 1 January “in light of everything that is going on” and said it will send any leftover food to London homeless charity Shelter in the Storm.
In Bristol, restaurants, bars and nightclubs have written a collaborative open letter calling for government support after seeing up to 70 per cent of Christmas bookings being cancelled.
Speaking on behalf of Bristol Food Union, a collective of chefs, restaurant owners and suppliers chef Josh Eggleton said: "Previous support that we've had from the government has been helpful. However, we're again facing an immediate crisis.
“If the industry is faced with Christmas closure, we must have grants to get through, but they will only be more short-term support. We need decisive action on the VAT cut long-term, we need an enabling environment to employ more staff, raise wages and bring people back into the industry. Further lockdowns mean more damage, more instability, and ultimately more people leaving the sector.
“This industry is a brilliant industry to work in, we don't mind hard work and we will keep on pushing, but we need serious, long-term support if we're going to survive,” he said.
Bristol Food Union and local delivery network Food Stuff Bris have also published a list of nine things people can do to support their local independent restaurants. They include: letting the restaurant know in good time about any cancellation; buy gift vouchers, merchandise or cookbooks from local restaurants; order takeaways or deliveries online; and contact your local MP to ask them to support restaurants.
“The support package announced yesterday doesn’t go far enough,” said Adam Parton, partner at accountancy firm MHA, adding that the sector needs a reduction in VAT and a return of furlough as well as grants for the self-employed.
“In the next couple of weeks and in 2022 cash flow will be a major concern as many venues are now seeing a more than 50 per cent cancellation in their bookings,” he said. “This could prove a devastating and costly blow for businesses in terms of employee wage commitment in addition to wasted food stocks.”