Pub landlords and restaurateurs in Bury St Edmunds say the town’s night-time economy is at crisis point amid concerns that the latest coronavirus restrictions have made some unnecessarily scared to go out.
Now the town’s Business Improvement District (BID) organisation Our Bury St Edmunds has raised the issues with the town’s MP, Jo Churchill, asking her to make ministers aware of these worries given that West Suffolk is currently seeing cases falling. Recent figures have shown that England’s average number of cases is three times more than in Bury St Edmunds.
Our Bury St Edmunds chief executive Mark Cordell said: “The 10pm curfew for these establishments is now undoing all the benefits that August’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme brought – particularly as this showed how safe it is to visit a pub here for a meal or drink. There seems to be no supporting evidence that closing at 10pm will slow the spread of coronavirus in Bury St Edmunds and we have to remember that cases here are very low anyway with considerable other measures such as sanitizer stations already in place. The government is giving with one hand and taking away with the other.
“While nobody would question the motives for wanting to reduce the spread of the virus, I know that pubs in the town have worked very hard to ensure their tables are spaced so that customers can be seated safely and have put in numerous other measures to protect people. But by having to close at 10pm it pushes back the latest time someone can book a table if they wish to eat. Now more have to book ‘sittings’ at the same time rather than a staggered approach which is actually more helpful to control numbers on the premises at any one time.”
The greater need to book tables – particularly in venues with limited space – is also increasing the number of “no-shows” adding to the economic challenges facing what is already a hard-hit sector.
David Marjoram, owner of the One Bull, has seen a dramatic increase in these since the 10pm curfew was introduced.
He said: “Over the Saturday, Sunday and Monday after this was brought in we had more than 50 people just not turn up or cancel on the day itself. It’s brutally hard particularly as Bury has for so long been recognised for its quality of food and drink establishments all of whom have worked so hard to make their premises as safe as possible for customers.”
Mr Marjoram’s views were echoed by Mike Garling who owns the LP Bar and has also seen significant numbers of people booking but just not turning up. He’s now decided to open seven days a week in an effort to keep his business viable.
Mr Garling added: “We are a late night venue and would normally have people here between 10pm and 3am so my staff have lost significant hours of work and tips. We saw how much people wanted to be able to go out and enjoy themselves during August and despite the increasingly stringent rules that pubs and bars have to comply with, we are doing our best to offer a welcome but most of all safe environment.
“We know how highly our customers value their favourite bars or their ‘local’ and their support is very much appreciated, but it’s just as important to let us know as early as possible when they need to cancel so that someone else can have that table. In fact for some who rely on evening trade that could mean the difference between staying open or not.”