Over the weekend, numerous pictures emerged showing huge crowds gathering in city centres, queuing at off licences and piling onto public transport after pubs, restaurants and bars were forced to close early under new measures introduced by the Government last week to try and curb the spread of Coronavirus.
The restrictions, which have been described as ‘another crushing blow’ for the sector, mean all pubs and restaurants in England must have a 10pm closing time, with licensed venues also legally obligated to operate with table service only.
Similar measures have also been adopted in Scotland and Wales, with Northern Ireland expected to announce its own restrictions this week.
It has been said the curfew could be in place for six months.
Emma McClarkin, CEO of the British Beer and Pub Association, has urged ministers to review the curfew and give venues more flexibility on closing times to allow customers to stagger their exits.
“The curfew has been another devastating blow to the beer and pub sector," she said.
"We have invested millions in creating safe socialising environments and had been slowly winning back the confidence of our customers and rebuilding our trade.
“As we have seen this weekend, the hard 10pm curfew has led to the consequence of customers leaving venues and filling the streets en masse.
"We would like to see the hard 10pm reviewed to allow us flexibility on doors closing time and allow customers to stagger their exits.
“Having not been consulted by the Government on the announcements last week, we do stand ready to work with the government to find the safest and most practical ways to tackle Coronavirus whilst crucially keeping our businesses and the hundreds of thousands of jobs they provide alive.”
Meanwhile Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, described the curfew as 'shambolic'.
In a tweet posted yesterday (27 September), he said: "It’s very clear, across the UK, that this ill thought out 10pm curfew, has pushed everyone out of venues with socially distanced measures, into the streets, into off licenses, supermarkets, over crowded public transport and house parties.
"Every operator predicted this."
MPs from across the political divide have also questioned the decision to impose a 'hard' curfew on hospitality businesses.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning (28 September), Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said he thought it was counter-productive.
"There needs to be an urgent review of the emerging evidence from police forces across the country," he said. "My gut feeling is that this curfew is doing more harm than good.
"It creates an incentive for people to gather in the streets, or more probably to gather in the home, and that is the opposite of what our local restrictions here are trying to do.
"So I don’t think this been fully thought through, to be honest."
Senior Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood said on Twitter yesterday that the 10pm closing time 'makes no sense', citing data from Public Health England (PHE) showing that in week 37 of the outbreak in England, just 5% of cases were linked to food outlets and restaurants.
In the most recent surveillance report from PHE, for week 39, that number goes down to 3%.
Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy has also questioned the science behind the new restrictions, saying it 'wasn't clear' where it came from.
Amid the criticism, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden insisted there was 'definitely science' behind the curfew.
Speaking on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show yesterday, he said: "That's why we're requiring people to be seated in pubs and restaurants, so that stops the flow of them to and from the bar.
"We are reducing the closing times to stop people staying later and drinking."
Dowden’s comments come despite a scientist advising the Government saying he had 'never heard' the measure discussed at Sage meetings.
According to The Times, the Prime Minister introduced the curfew measures not based on science or modelling, but because it was 'a good symbolic thing because it’s a low-cost way of sending a clear message that things are different'.
Restaurateurs have already begun counting the financial cost of the Government’s curfew.
Speaking to BigHospitality last week, chef Elizabeth Haigh, who runs Borough Market-based counter restaurant Mei Mei, said she has had to refund nearly £1,000 in deposits as a result of customers cancelling their dinner reservations, with many citing the new restrictions as their reason for doing so.
While Hospitality Union’s Jonathan Downey said the curfew had destroyed any chance of his iconic Soho bar Milk & Honey surviving.
Downey confirmed yesterday that the bar had now closed permanently, after 18 years of trading, as a direct result of the 10pm curfew.