England’s restaurants plead for help as Omicron wipes out bookings

Andrew Taylor’s Croydon gastropub is just one of thousands hit by mixed messages from government over socialising

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For weeks, Andrew Taylor had pinned his hopes on “mad Friday”, the last one before the Christmas holidays when hundreds of people would normally pack into his gastropub in Croydon.

But as Covid case numbers soared last week, the number of cancellations grew. Instead of the 300 bookings Taylor had pencilled in at the start of the week, just 41 groups turned up at his venue, Mr Fox, on Friday night. What should have been the busiest night of the year was a washout.

“It’s been hard and fast,” said Taylor. “We were fully booked every day of the week up until Christmas Eve, and now that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

On Saturday, the 200 bookings expected had shrunk to just 64. “On top of that, we’ve lost all our corporate Christmas bookings,” he said. “It’s been terrible.”

Taylor, who also runs a restaurant called Adam and Eve in Northumberland, said that very few staff have been off sick with Covid. “But it wouldn’t really make much difference because I don’t have anything for them to do. We’re seriously cutting hours, unfortunately, which is not ideal going into Christmas week.

“Most businesses were relying on having a good festive period to get them through January. I think everyone knew that January was going to be tough, regardless.

“We understand why parties are not going ahead. I just think the mixed messaging from the government is the main problem on this.”

He said prime minister Boris Johnson’s lack of leadership was making things more difficult, because members of the public did not want to go out, but at the same time businesses were not entitled to government support to help them with lost earnings.

“He’s not telling people not to go out – but he’s also telling them to stay at home. I’m not sure where we stand. It’s very much lacking clarity.”

He added: “We do need a support package because all of this has a knock-on effect. It’s not just about us, we’ve got suppliers as well, and also the thousands of freelancers that are attached to hospitality, like your entertainers, your door staff, all of those.”

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