New variant and the government create panic and confusion again

“It’s really hard. I get why people are cancelling - I would totally lie low if I could. It feels like it could be the final nail in the coffin for a lot of businesses that were hanging their hopes on a busy December.”

Mary-Ellen McTague, Chef and owner of The Creameries in Chorlton is just one of many operators in the Manchester hospitality scene concerned about the effect of the new Covid-19 variant on this year’s festive season bookings. 

The news of Omicron's arrival in the UK, with 22 cases here at the time of writing - none of which are in Manchester, has already led to reports of cancellations and enquiries about booking and COVID care policies.

If the government decides to go into lockdown last minute, what do we do?

“It’s just been relentless for restaurants for almost two years now. It’s just gone from really hard pre-COVID to impossible. Can’t plan, can’t rely on usual patterns of busy-ness, it’s all up the fuck,” Mary-Ellen adds.

Despite concerns and frustrations, restaurants are urging calm, emphasising the measures restaurants and bars have put into place in order to keep everyone safe and encouraging patrons to do their part by wearing a mask when possible. Even if the government hasn’t mandated it. 

Confidentials wrote about how safe restaurants are due to their stringent health and hygiene systems back at the start of the pandemic in April 2020. Further measures have since been brought in to help people to dine safely amid the pandemic. These include perspex screens between booths, sanitising stations and even more stringent cleaning procedures as well as PPE. Restaurants have done a lot of this at their own, not insubstantial cost. 

The Interior Of The Creameries Restaurant In Chorlton Manchester Ran By Chef Owner Mary Ellen Mctague
The Creameries in Chorlton is owned by Mary Ellen McTague Image: Confidentials

Hospitality unable to catch a break

In the run-up to one of the busiest times of the year for bars and restaurants, the peak time for large group bookings and Christmas parties, Manchester hospitality is, once again, holding its breath.

The renewed concerns about COVID and lockdowns and associated insecurity are just the latest round of challenges in what has been another pummelling of a year for the hospitality sector in Manchester and beyond. The pandemic continues to draw out whilst Brexit-associated supply chain issues and the staffing crisis have also persisted.

Although the government is yet to implement stricter restrictions on the sector, with restaurants, pubs and bars exempt from the same rules that came into force for retail and transport on Tuesday morning (30 November), media speculation and wider concerns on further lockdowns remain. 

171009 Elnecot Review Elnecot Interior 2
Elnecot owner Michael Clay says he has had no cancellations yet Image: Confidentials

“We’ve had a couple of people start to email and ask about our COVID policies again which hasn’t happened for a while but we haven’t actually had anyone cancel because of it yet,” says Michael Clay, Chef Patron of Elnecot in Ancoats

“Though it is a bit of a concern as the media is stirring up hysteria again.”

Another person concerned about the mainstream media's coverage of the latest twist in the COVID story is Matt Snell, CEO of the Gusto group that has several restaurants in Greater Manchester. He tweeted that the media's "scaremongering" was "genuinely putting livelihoods at risk" and that his group had had hundreds of cancellations.

Everyone looking to the government for clarity

The government has said it will review the current measures on COVID-19 in three weeks and it’s hoped that a push on booster jabs in the coming weeks will curb the threat of further restrictions and lockdowns. For many, however, the government’s record of inaction and delayed decision itself creates uncertainty for both the customer and the operator.

“If the government decides to go into lockdown last minute, what do we do? With the bookings we’ve got now, restrictions aside, will they cancel because they feel uncomfortable?” Indian restaurant Roti told Manchester Confidential. 

“We’ve been diligent with the things required of us. We’ve made sure there are sanitising stations. We sanitise all surfaces. We make sure staff test and that they can isolate if need be.” 

Roti Indian Restaurant In Sale Manchester
Roti has restaurants in Sale and Chorlton Image: Confidentials

Roti, which has restaurants in Chorlton and Sale, has itself had cancellations and bookings delayed. As a relatively new business, originally launching in Chorlton in 2019, Roti was too new to be eligible for government support. Questions remain as to the effectiveness of support packages given to the hospitality industry throughout the pandemic.

Like other restaurants in Manchester, they're keen to emphasise the efforts they're going to, to ensure customers feel as safe as possible when dining over the festive period.

“Customer safety and health are paramount to us. Everything else is just material. Everything that’s within our control, and I’m sure I speak for everyone, to keep people safe, we’ll put that at the forefront. Safety, wellbeing and health are always more important than everything else.”

Are you thinking of cancelling your group bookings for December? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Read next: Top things to do in Manchester for December, Xmas and New Year 2021

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