'Sometimes you feel like a police officer' - Sunderland bar and restaurant owners respond to tightened restrictions

City bar and restaurant bosses have been responding to the tighter local lockdown restrictions meaning it’s now illegal for households to mix in any indoor setting, which directly impacts the already struggling hospitality industry.

Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 2:47 pm
City businesses respond to new measures

Venues across Wearside have already had to adapt to social distancing and then local lockdown restrictions imposed across the North East. Now health secretary Matt Hancock has announced that from 00.01 on Wednesday, September 30, it will be illegal for households to mix indoors in any setting in Gateshead, Durham, Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Northumberland, and Sunderland.

Some venues, including Ttonic, The Point and Glitterball, have chosen to temporarily close because the new restrictions are so difficult to enforce. Others hope Sunderland diners and drinkers will help them to abide by the measures.

Ian Wong, owner of Asiana in West Wear Street, is among the city business owners who’ve been complying with the measures.

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Asiana is one of the city's longest-running restaurants

Speaking about the latest measures, he said: "We’ve been following the guidance already since the local restrictions were put into measure.

"With the latest vague announcement putting a ban on mixing of households in any indoor environment, it doesn’t change what we have already been doing.

"Every weekend seems like a Valentine’s Day, if not worse, as the restaurant is full of tables of two. We do get the occasional large family in, however, they are few and far between.”

He added: “My main worry and concern is: who is it down to police the tables? Now we tell all customers to read our guidance on our Facebook and website and also tell them that it is one household only, what happens if they choose to lie? All in all, it is a super difficult time not just for the restaurant industry, but more so for the whole night time economy.

Angelo's Ristorante owners chef Nello Russo and front of house Federico Trulli (right)

"Fingers crossed, everyone will follow the guidelines and the R numbers will drop, we certainly wouldn’t welcome a circuit breaker scenario.

“Who knows we may even be able to celebrate Christmas.”

Angelo’s Ristorante in Sunniside has also been adhering to the guidelines since they were imposed, including removing eight tables to reduce capacity and staff wearing face shields.

Like all businesses, their usual flow of bookings is down and there have been cancellations tonight and tomorrow as a direct result of the new laws.

Inside Angelo's in Sunniside

However, co-owner Federico Trulli is also hopeful that people will still support local businesses with their permitted households.

"We followed the guidelines from day one and really studied the 45-page document, so in that sense the tightened restrictions don’t make that much difference,” he explained. "We are very much a family restaurant, so our bookings are usually from one household. However, what the new restrictions have done is to put us under more pressure to check, so sometimes you feel like a police officer.

"We always ask people about households, as well as to wear a mask and to check in on the NHS app, but how are we to know if they are not one household? We have to trust what they say and have faith in our customers.”

While the new law applies to indoor mixing of households, in the absence of clarity on the issue, it’s believed to be still only guidance in outdoor settings – as long as you still abide by the rule of six.

The outdoor space at The Saltgrass

It means the law does not yet apply to outdoor spaces in the city, such as The Saltgrass in Deptford which has been offering largely outdoor seating since the pandemic.

As well as its partially covered Anchor bar, it also has a new marquee in the car park, meaning this weekend’s planned Oktoberfest can go ahead.

Owner Walter Veti said: “Because our partially covered area is classed as outdoor, the new restrictions are still guidance, and not law in that area, as long as you abide by rule of six. We also mitigate against the spread of the virus with table service only, spaced out tables, routine cleaning and masks to be worn when people are moving around.

“We’ve found that people have been really compliant with what we ask of them, they are just happy to be out.”

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