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Sun 11th Apr 2021 - Weekend Press Roundup – all the leisure stories
Two-thirds of pubs lack outdoor space to open on Monday: Two-thirds of pubs cannot open on Monday (15 April) because they lack the outside space to serve customers safely, it has emerged. Pubs, cafes and restaurants in England can open for customers seated outdoors from 12 April in what could herald a surge in European-style cafe culture. Despite reports of hundreds of bars, pubs and restaurants applying for outdoor drinking and dining licences, the trade body UKHospitality warned that even those that do open might make only around one fifth of their usual sales. Analysis seen by The Telegraph shows that 25,979 sites have outdoor space – 43% of all those in England. Only a quarter of high street bars and restaurants do, rising to 46% of suburban sites and 68% of rural outlets. Community and food-led pubs were more likely to have outdoor areas than restaurants, casual dining businesses and bars, the research by UKHospitality found. Outside areas at high street bars were “almost exclusively standing areas”. Kate Nicholls, the organisation’s chief executive, told The Telegraph: “While Monday is a very welcome return for hospitality as a whole, it represents the start of a very gradual return to normality and it will be a long road to recovery for many. We have to remember fewer than two in five will even be able to open on Monday – the vast majority will remain closed without revenue for another five weeks. Just 22% of the sector’s trading is likely to return, and that is weather dependent. So, while it is great to be able to bring our teams back to work and welcome back family and friends to socialise safely, this is not sufficient to ensure the long-term viability of business and jobs. That is why the government needs to stick to the roadmap plan to lift social distancing restrictions from 21 June to allow our sector to survive and thrive.” (The Telegraph)

Drinkers told they must wear masks in some pub beer gardens: Pub drinkers in some parts of England will be forced to wear masks even when outside from Monday, thanks to even stricter rules for reopening drawn up by some overzealous councils. Landlords have been told they must enforce mask-wearing by their customers when they are walking around beer gardens, despite national guidance that only requires face coverings indoors. Councils have set up enforcement teams that will patrol pubs looking for rule-breakers, and landlords fear they could face fines if their customers are caught. The government’s guidance says drinkers must wear masks if going inside a pub to use the toilets or to pay at the bar. One notice from Ribble Valley Borough Council told pubs in Lancashire that “face coverings must be worn by customers, except when seated to eat or drink”. Stosie Madi, owner of the Parkers Arms pub near Clitheroe, contacted the council to ask if the notice was a “misprint” and whether her customers needed masks outdoors. A council official told her face coverings must be worn in her beer garden unless her customers are eating and drinking. Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, said she had heard of other pubs across England that had been given similar orders. “We need local enforcement bodies to be working to support businesses to reopen and to help them reopen rather than putting barriers in the way or creating confusions,” she told The Telegraph. “The fear is people will be wrongly told to wear masks in pub gardens.” Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pubs Association, said: “We are aware of inconsistencies amongst councils and local authorities, and we would ask them to come to this in the spirit of trying to assist these pubs opening safely and successfully, rather than trying to look for errors or reasons to stymie their reopening.” (The Telegraph)

Vaccine passports will be a short-term ‘bridge to freedom’ before full herd immunity by this autumn: Ministers are planning to use vaccine passports as a short-term ‘bridge to freedom’ before full herd immunity is achieved in the autumn, The Mail on Sunday understands. Under the plans, all covid-related restrictions would be relaxed as planned under Boris Johnson’s roadmap on 21 June – but with the passports allowing the return of mass public gatherings in the summer. This would include the return of capacity crowds for the start of the Premier League season in August. The use of the passports is likely to be restricted to public gatherings such as sporting events or theatre productions, as the logistics of using them for pubs and restaurants are proving to be formidable. As one cabinet minister says: “There may be some benefits. But when you look at the practicalities of implementing it, and the actual utility of implementing the system, it just isn’t worth it.” Voters overwhelmingly back the use of vaccine passports as a ‘bridge to freedom’, an exclusive Mail on Sunday poll has found. The use of ‘covid status’ documents was backed by 63% of respondents to the Deltapoll survey, with 25% opposed. Some 66% would feel comfortable using them for the pub, 62% for the office, 67% for hairdressers, 68% for supermarkets, 65% for sports events and 70% for holidays abroad. (Mail on Sunday)

Wetherspoons founder made £50m from selling shares while pub chain was claiming furlough cash: Wetherspoons founder and chairman Tim Martin pocketed millions of pounds from selling shares while his pub chain was claiming furlough cash, The Mail on Sunday can reveal. Martin, who still owns more than a fifth of Wetherspoons, sold £50m worth of shares in January. Government data shows the business claimed more than £25m in furlough money in the same month. Last night, the outspoken businessman was facing calls to hand back the furlough funds. Tory MP Sir Bob Neill said: “A number of reputable firms have returned furlough cash if they have managed to weather the covid storm better than expected, and they’ve been applauded for it. Perhaps Mr Martin might consider following suit.” A Wetherspoons spokesman said: “We are a huge net contributor to the Treasury. Even in the last financial year, when pubs were closed by the government for a long period, Wetherspoons paid £436.7m in taxes, in spite of making a loss of £89.6m.” He suggested the company itself had not directly benefited from the furlough payouts, adding it would be ‘incorrect to say’ the value of Mr Martin’s shares in the business had been supported by taxpayer funds. (Mail on Sunday)

Owners of London nightclub Bunga Bunga in £3m court fight over covid claim: The owners of Bunga Bunga – the London nightclub once frequented by Prince Harry – are preparing a legal battle to recover millions of pounds in an insurance dispute. Inception Group, co-founded by Duncan Stirling and Charlie Gilkes, paid £130,000 for comprehensive annual insurance cover for 11 bars, restaurants and clubs in London, including Mr Fogg’s, Maggie’s and the Barts speakeasy. The group filed a claim in March last year after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told people to stay away from bars and restaurants, triggering an immediate collapse in revenues. In a letter seen by The Mail on Sunday, insurance company AXA initially appeared to suggest the company could be covered for loss of business. However, AXA said last night that Inception Group’s policy does not provide cover for losses due to the pandemic. A test case in the High Court ruled that thousands of firms with similar claims are eligible for compensation for covid-related losses as a result of the lockdown. Inception Group says AXA is trying to “wriggle out” of making a pay out and it plans to launch a £3m claim in the High Court. It is represented by Fenchurch Law, which is also acting for firms including chef Marco Pierre White’s Black and White Hospitality. Stirling said: “We just want to move forward and focus on the recovery path. But 12 months later we’re still having to fight insurers that were meant to be protecting our interests. To see them behave in this disgraceful way after we have paid thousands of pounds in premiums has been a big wake-up call.” A spokesperson for AXA said: “No cover is provided by the policy wording for this particular claim. We are continuing to work to ensure all valid claims are paid as quickly as possible.” (Mail on Sunday)

Market bets on summer bounce for ailing retailers: Investors are betting that tomorrow’s high street reopening will usher in a summer spending spree that provides a desperately needed boost to retailers, pubs and restaurants after a devastating year. The FTSE 350 General Retailers Index, mostly made up of high street chains, closed at its highest level for almost five years on Friday after rising 48% over the past 12 months. Meanwhile, hedge funds have been unwinding short bets – from which they stand to profit from falling share prices – placed against high street names during lockdown. With almost half the population vaccinated and households sitting on about £140 billion of savings, hopes are rising that the bounce-back after a three-month lockdown will be far stronger than in previous reopenings. A YouGov survey last week found that 72% of people felt comfortable visiting high street shops, up from about 40% last June. Pubs and restaurants will be able to resume service outdoors tomorrow, although UKHospitality, the trade body, said constraints on outside space meant that only 48% of pubs and 33% of restaurants would reopen. According to IHS Markit stock lending data, a proxy for short-selling, 2% of shares in pub group Mitchells & Butler are currently sold short, down from 8% in February, and 2.7% of shares in The Restaurant Group, owner of Wagamama, are being shorted, down from 7.8%. Listed retail, leisure and transport businesses have reinforced their finances by raising £1.5bn in the first quarter, compared with £221m a year earlier, according to analysis by Investec of Dealogic data. Among those raising funds were JD Sports and The Restaurant Group. (Sunday Times)

Pub garden pints are what Brits are most looking forward to: New research reveals the things Brits are most looking forward to doing again after the national lockdown is eased further from next week. A research poll of 2,476 adults commissioned by VisitEngland shows that foodie experiences are top of the list for people who are looking forward to having more freedom. More than half (51%) of respondents to the survey cited eating out at a restaurant as the travel experience they have missed most during lockdown, followed by more than a third (37%) who have missed visits to pubs and bars and coffee shops and cafes. The research shows that taste buds are driving travel plans with foodie experiences taking the top three spots for activities Brits are hoping to enjoy this summer. Almost half, 46%, of respondents are most looking forward to eating out at a restaurant, market or street food truck, jointly placed with the chance to have a drink in a pub garden, with 44% looking forward to visiting coffee shops and cafes. VisitEngland director Andrew Stokes said: “From fine-dining restaurants and gastropubs to beach-side shacks and city street-food, England’s food and drink offering is as varied as it is exciting and an integral part of exploring a destination. From our coast and countryside to our city streets, England offers a huge diversity of sensory experiences and we encourage Brits to responsibly explore both their old favourites and discover our hidden gems this summer.” Fish and chips (51%), ice-cream (51%) and a cold drink in a pub (47%) were the top three tastes Brits are excited about experiencing this summer. Food and drink dominated the other sensory highlights, with the smell of a BBQ (46%), the noise of an ice-cream van jingle (35%), the sound of chatter in a pub (44%) and the feeling of a cold drink in hand (45%), all scoring in the top three responses when asked about the sensory travel experiences Brits are most looking forward to. (Bristol Live)

Rick Stein almost ‘lost whole business’ due to the pandemic: Rick Stein has revealed the coronavirus pandemic almost cost him his whole restaurant business as lockdown left it on the verge of bankruptcy. The TV chef, 74, splits his time between Australia where he lives with second wife Sarah, and Cornwall, but was left having to deal with issues over Zoom calls from the other side of the world when lockdown set in. The hospitality sector was one of the hardest hit, with restaurants and bars forced to close for months on end, and the future of Rick’s restaurant empire which employed 600 staff at the time was left hanging in the balance. He told The Times: “It was very scary and we nearly lost the whole business. And it’s certainly not just my work we’re talking about – Jill [Rick’s ex-wife and business partner] and the children have put so much into it too. Not being there was horrible.” The majority of the business managed to weather the storm thanks to furlough and the success of the family’s Stein’s At Home seafood meal boxes, but Rick lost his signature restaurants in Porthleven and Falmouth. He added: “It would have broken my heart to lose it all. So yes, I am very grateful to be coming through it.” (The Times)

Nightclub nightmare – industry fears for its post-covid future: The entertainment and hospitality industry was one of the first sectors to be shut by the government a year ago. It is one of few to have barely reopened since. Even when pubs staged a partial comeback last summer, almost all nightclubs remained closed, and they have had to survive on limited government grants and loans. Moreover, they tend to employ and to cater to young people – the age group most likely to have lost jobs, struggled through lockdowns in cramped flats or had their university degrees upended by the pandemic, all while being least at risk from the virus. For many, the closure of nightclubs is further punishment, or the clubs themselves and those who work in them, the effects have been brutal. During the recent lockdown, nightclubs attempting to trade by offering takeaway drinks or virtual gigs have achieved on average 5% of normal revenues, according to the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), the trade body for businesses operating between 6pm and 6am. Each week around 40 night-time businesses have shut for good. Figures from the Local Data Company show that Wales, Yorkshire and London had the most nightclubs close – between ten and 13% of their total. Despite being given a potential reopening date by the government – 21 June – no one yet knows what restrictions will be imposed on clubs when they finally open, or how their customers will react to being allowed out. Some wonder whether many of them will even survive until then. Are the lights about to go out in the UK’s nightclubs once and for all? Much rests on what the government decides is safe. Early studies suggest that crowded bars do present a higher risk of covid-19 transmission, and it seems common sense that clubs would too. A research group set up by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is examining the effects of alcohol and duration of events on infection spread. Layout, ventilation, vaccine certificates, mask-wearing and rapid-testing regimes are all under consideration. A series of pilot events for mass gatherings, including a club night in Liverpool, will take place during April and May but no final decisions on protocols have been made. “There is going to be a lot that has to be addressed with clubbing and safety and how much of a breeding ground clubs could be,” says DJ Teneil Throssell. The signs are that clubbers haven’t been put off. The 1,600-capacity Fabric in east London is staging a 42-hour opening weekend over June 25-26. And Printworks took just 22 minutes to sell 5,000 tickets for its opening weekend in September. A year’s worth of young people who have turned 18 during the pandemic are waiting to go clubbing for the first time. As DJ Henry Smithson – stage name Riton – puts it, events like this could be “pretty lethal”, people will have been released from a year listening to home-speaker systems and have a pandemic to put behind them. Tough though the past year has been, are there any positives? Clubbers might feel more loyal to the clubs they love, says Ali Mehrkar, director of music at the Hackney’s Night Tales. Valentina Lozano, a club manager for Colombo Group, expects the pent-up demand for the wild abandon of a dance floor will mean that operators rush to bring back employees. Others suggest that, with international travel remaining difficult, there may be more focus on homegrown DJ talent. (FT Weekend)

Osmond among bidders in talks to acquire one of Britain’s biggest DIY retailers: One of Britain’s wealthiest businessmen is assembling a £300m takeover bid for Homebase, the DIY chain revived from the brink of collapse just three years ago. Sky News has learnt that Hugh Osmond, who is spearheading a legal challenge to the government’s coronavirus restrictions on the hospitality sector, is among a number of parties vying to buy the retailer. City sources said this weekend that the entrepreneur’s investment vehicle, Osmond Capital, had emerged as a serious bidder for Homebase, which is owned by Hilco Capital. Osmond is not thought to be in exclusive talks to buy the chain, although the identity of other bidders was unclear this weekend. If he does proceed with a takeover of Homebase, it would be implemented through Osmond Capital, the same corporate vehicle which holds his stake in the quoted restaurant business Various Eateries. Hilco is also said to have weighed a stock market flotation of the business. (Sky News)

One in four Brits ‘will refuse to go to pubs or restaurants if they have to show a vaccine passport’: One in four Brits will refuse to go to pubs, restaurants or cinemas if they have to show a vaccine passport to get in, according to a poll. But people are so desperate to get away that the figure drops to one in five when it comes to travelling abroad or going on a cruise, a study of 5,000 working adults found. The poll found that 30% of people oppose health passports simply as a way of getting life back to normal. By far the most popular reason for supporting vaccine passports is to be able to travel abroad, followed by seeing friends and family, and eating out. The survey was conducted by BrightHR, who have created a free online for bosses to track the progress of jabs in business. Alan Price, of BrightHR said: “It is astonishing to see how split the British public is on this subject when it comes to pubs and restaurants. But when it comes to holidays, people are much more likely to be in favour.” (The Sun)

12 million Brits will blow £2bn on shopping, drinking, eating and daytrips on ‘Freedom Monday’: Twelve million Brits will blow £2 billion on shopping, drinking, eating and daytrips on “Freedom Monday”. As lockdown restrictions ease next week, pubs are raring to go, with a whopping 200 million pints delivered from breweries. After 97 days in lockdown, a million drinkers will sup four million pints on 12 April, while hundreds of thousands eat outside at restaurants. Roads will be closed for a street-party atmosphere with outdoor tables in many towns and cities. Landlords and landladies are in “battlestations mode” as many gear up for opening for the first time since shutting on 4 November – some did open for a few weeks under tight restrictions in December. The British Beer and Pub Association said some 15,000 pubs – 40% of the total in England – will re-open for outside drinking in beer gardens, car parks and even on roads from Monday. There is no need to order food as there was in the autumn, but there is no ordering at the bar – it will still be table service only. And pubs can sell takeaway pints too from Monday, which was previously banned. Over 100 million pints are set to be transported from breweries to pubs for Alfresco April. (The Sun)

Over 100 Paris restaurant diners fined for violating rules: More than 100 diners at a restaurant in Paris have been fined and the manager arrested for violating covid restrictions, French police say. Officers were called to an address in the capital following a noise complaint and discovered a clandestine gathering, Paris police tweeted on Saturday. “Guests [were] fined for non-compliance with health measures,” the tweet said. It comes days after French police launched an investigation into alleged fine dining and parties in the city. Last week, private TV channel M6 broadcast an undercover film it said was from a hidden camera, showing diners enjoying caviar, champagne and truffles at two upmarket venues. In response to the report, French interior minister Gérald Darmanin ordered a probe, saying that such gatherings – breaching covid lockdown rules – would be “totally unacceptable”. (BBC News)

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