The weather has been absolutely glorious, and it is hard for one not to think what a season we would be having right now if it was not for this Pandemic. As the days and weeks go on, we are getting ever closer to our re-opening date and we have not received any direction as to how we are to re-open and operate our restaurants, cafés and gastropubs under these conditions. The big debate is the social distancing rule of 2 metres. I believe common sense will prevail and a pragmatic solution will be established by the time we are to re-open and the distance will be dropped to 1 metre and our guidelines will be relaxed. We have flattened the curve and in order to ensure that this virus is suppressed we as leaders will have to ensure that our teams are implementing the correct procedures when it comes to hygiene in our businesses. It is fair to say that these measures will be a new way of life and they are here to stay for a long time and so therefore I am hoping that common sense will prevail when the guidelines are circulated.
At the beginning of April, the Restaurants Association of Ireland were issued a draft document from Fáilte Ireland on how we should re-open our industry, I believe that the proposed guidelines were too vague and unreasonable in many areas. We are the specialists when it comes to food service and food safety, and we know what will and will not work for our industry. None of our arguments have been unreasonable and many are in line with the WHO. We have since given our recommendations to Fáilte Ireland which I hope will be incorporated in the next document which should be approved by the HSE shortly. The 2 metre Vs 1 metre rule is a deal breaker and I would hope that a 2-metre rule where possible is the answer because that is common sense.
I have heard of restaurateurs installing automatic doors and spending hard earned money on perplex screens to section out their dining spaces and implementing measures that are not even a requirement yet and I cannot reiterate enough that no decision should be made too hastily and that baby steps are required here. If some start putting perplex and screens etc in place it may become a consumer expectation and we will have our restaurants transformed into plastic jungles which will change our restaurants forever. As each day goes on and we eliminate this virus and the chances of a normal setting increases, before long we will be able to progress in our recovery. We will be hosting a webinar in the coming weeks as to our re opening and some recommendations that will assist us going forward.
In order for our recovery to happen we need financial support. The €10,000 Restart Grant is not going to cut it, real financial measures are needed, or the entire tourism sector is going to fall off a cliff. Every day more and more businesses are making the decision to close. Last January we were already closing 10 restaurants every week as they could not survive with the running costs alone never mind a pandemic thrown into the mix. Currently our rates are deferred until 27th of June. They need to be deferred for another 3 months at minimum and reviewed again at the end of September to see how viable the sector is. The Wage Subsidy Scheme has been an enormous help for many although it has its flaws. Businesses cannot employ a new member of staff under the scheme which should be the case if a position is to be filled. The PUP scheme is the big cost to the exchequer and as each phase of reopening occurs it is time to start means testing and putting supports in place where they can be effective in re stabilising the economy.
Over 300 of our members have forwarded their insurance policies to our legal team and this has progressed for us in regards to recovery of losses during the pandemic. We will update as the procedure evolves. It would be wise to check policies to see if there are grounds to pursue a claim and we would recommend taking legal advice through the Restaurant Association of Ireland’s legal team Robinson O’Neill or your own solicitor/barrister.
By the time I am writing next month’s newsletter our industry will have reopened. Hopefully we will have more information on supports to ensure continuity in our sector. I wish you all the very best in your re-opening and hope that it will be successful in every way possible.
Mark McGowan -President