LEADING hospitality companies have declared ministers have “sacrificed” the industry in the battle to halt the spread of coronavirus, amid growing calls for the 10pm curfew to scrapped.

A new group comprising some of Scotland’s biggest bar and restaurant employers has warned the reduction in trading hours has effectively put more businesses and jobs at risk in the sector, with the burden of potential redundancies falling disproportionately on young people.

And it has underlined fears the restriction is sparking disorder in town and city centres and leading to more parties taking places in private homes, providing a breeding ground for virus transmission.

The Scottish Government introduced the curfew, which means all customers must leave venues by 10pm, last week under a raft of new restrictions to halt the spread of the resurgent virus.

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However, hospitality figures say it unfairly links the industry to the spread of the disease.

The newly-assembled Scottish Hospitality Group, which includes eight of the biggest independent multiple outlet operators in the country, argues that the industry has a strong safety track record when it comes to halting the spread of Covid-19. Figures released by the group show that their outlets have served around 1.8 million customers since lockdown measures were lifted in July, with only 17 members of staff and customers testing positively for Covid-19.

Mario Gizzi, director of The Di Maggio’s Restaurant Group (DRG), which employs 1,150 staff, said: “We have track and trace, we have all the rigorous things you have to do to go from a two-metre zone to a one-metre zone. We are safe. You don’t have to do that to go the supermarket. You are certainly not doing that when you go to a house party.”

The Scottish Hospitality Group includes the DRG Group, Buzzworks Holdings, Signature Pubs, Montpeliers, Manorview Group, Lisini Pub Co, Caledonia Inns, G1 Group, Siberia Bar & Hotel, Mor-Rioghain Group, and Caledonian Heritable. Its members employ more than 6,000 people.

Nic Wood, owner of the Signature Pubs, which employs 650 people across 22 outlets, expressed frustration in facing tighter trading conditions when his business and others have pulled out the stops to demonstrate they can trade safely.

He said Signature has been determined to be the “gold standard” on safety since re-opening after lockdown in July, going to the extent of offering customers “reassurance hours” to set their minds at ease before visiting.

Stating that he has seen no evidence to suggest hospitality outlets are a major source of virus “transfer”, in contrast to universities or care homes, he said: “I just want to ask the question [of the government]: Tell me what else I can do? I want to stay open, keep jobs and be a source of pleasure for families. I want avoid a generation of redundancies.” He added: “There is no evidence we are a main source of transfer in the licensed trade. That is why it is so frustrating.”

Referring to the curfew, he noted: “Each of these things is taking little bit off the bottom line… it is death by a thousand paper cuts.”

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Mr Wood expressed deep concern over the potential impact on young people, warning that thousands of redundancies will be inevitable if outlets are forced to close against a backdrop of the furlough scheme coming to an end. He said young people learn valuable skills, such as communication, by taking jobs in hospitality, which prepare them for future careers. Mr Wood added: “It does feel like we are an industry that is being sacrificed.”

Mr Gizzi said: “We are going to end up in a situation where a lot of hospitality outlets won’t re-open… and those young people and potentially some of the staff we have are going to have to be paid off. We can’t keep people on the payroll and we have no income.

“With all due respect, the Chancellor’s new furlough (Job Support Scheme) is untenable for us. It just doesn’t work.”

The Scottish Hospitality Group said the industry was not consulted over the 10pm curfew, which operators say has thrown up a fresh set of problems in its wake. Social media was awash last weekend with stories of huge crowds converging on city and town centre streets after leaving hospitality outlets en masse at 10pm.

Mr Gizzi said: “I don’t think the 10 o’clock curfew helps at all. It is just another barrier to entry. People are already potentially a wee bit concerned about what is happening, and I think this is just another nail in the coffin. Our industry, in particular, has been singled out.”
Mr Gizzi warned one consequence of the new rule will be a surge in “binge drinking” as customers have less time in outlets. “The (Scottish) Government which sits its hat on responsible drinking is actually going to go back and encourage binge drinking. That is what is going to happen.”
Roy Brett, chef proprietor of Ondine in Edinburgh, said the industry “seems to definitely be in the firing line” when new coronavirus restrictions are introduced, be it the 10pm curfew or the “bizarre” ban on background music.
He added: “It feels to me that there must be a genuine concern about restaurants, because the Government are looking at us as a risk area. If it is not just a risk, support us, and back us. There is no point in saying: ‘Re-open, but I really recommend you don’t got to restaurants’. That is a real mixed message.”
Brad Stevens, owner of Mamasan in Glasgow city centre and the Pizza Punks chain, said of the new restrictions: “It all seems to be rushed, ill-informed decisions that make the Government and local councils look like they are not doing nothing.”
Billy Boyter, head chef and owner of The Cellar, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Anstruther, said he is now considering beginning service earlier in the evening because of the 10pm curfew. It usually takes guests three hours to enjoy the tasting menu at the restaurant, where table numbers are down to six from eight because of social distancing. Mr Boyter said.: “I can understand what the Government is trying to do… but hospitality in general is too diverse an industry to give the one restriction to. Everyone operates so differently.”