Sunderland restaurateurs speak of crushing disappointment at Tier 3 announcement
In what would have been their busiest time of year, Sunderland restaurateurs have been faced with the crushing news that they must close their doors for at least another fortnight.
The Government has confirmed that Sunderland, South Tyneside, Newcastle, Northumberland, County Durham, North Tyneside and Gateshead have been placed into Tier 3 when lockdown 2 ends on December 2.
From next week, England will be placed in a strengthened tier system, with Sunderland placed in the highest restriction. While non-essential shops, as well as gyms and hairdressers, will be able to open in Tier 3, the hospitality sector has again been dealt the strictest blow.
Pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes will have to stay closed except when operating a takeaway, delivery or click and collect service.
Elisa Ricci and her family have been trading in the city for 26 years with their popular San Marino restaurant in Chester Road, but this has been the most difficult time in its history.
She said: “It very much feels like the restaurant industry has been made a scapegoat for something that isn’t our fault. If closing restaurants worked why hasn’t there been a huge reduction when we’ve been shut? People can go out Christmas shopping, not following social distancing, but they can’t sit in a restaurant at a distance with track and trace and sanitisation in place?”
Elisa says the time of year has exacerbated the Tier 3 status, which will be in place until at least December 16.
"The money you make in December sees you through the quieter months of January and February. And it’s not just us, it’s the whole supply chain involved in the industry, from the milkman to the farmer, everyone is affected,” she explained.
Like many in the city, San Marino has had to adapt to a delivery system, which it is permitted to continue with in Tier 3.
"Delivery did really well in the first lockdown, but we’ve definitely seen a decline in that because people are starting to feel the pinch,” explained Elisa, who runs the restaurant with husband Ben.
"This has been a different lockdown to the first. We have really loyal customers who we’re so grateful for, but a lot of people have lost their jobs so luxuries like ordering in food is cut, which is completely understandable.”
Deliveries currently take place Wednesdays to Sundays, but the couple are considering stopping deliveries on Wednesdays and Thursdays due to the lack of demand. They are hoping weekend deliveries, including Sunday dinners and Christmas dinners will see them through.
During the local lockdown in October, Elisa and Ben had to make the decision to temporarily close their other business, Hanover Place in Deptford, because of the impact on pubs. The historic pub remains closed for the time being.
Ian Wong owns another of the city’s longest-standing restaurants: Asiana Fusion in West Wear Street.
Due to its large size, quality food and sweeping views, the city centre site is usually a popular spot for Christmas nights out.
Speaking after the Tier 3 announcement, Ian said: “Well it was expected, but it is still a disappointment all the same. All the planning that was implemented for Christmas and New Year’s Eve is out of the window and will have to be transferred to a takeaway scenario.
"If we were just a takeaway, I’d be over the moon with the support from our customers, however, I have three quarters of a very large restaurant that I am having to pay rent for that is unable to bring in any income. I’d still like to thank all our customers old and new for ordering takeaway meals from us to help us get through Christmas.”
Looking ahead, he said: “I don’t believe the tier will change after the two weeks review. I do hope people will stick to the rules and prevent us from being in this horrible situation we all find ourselves in for a second longer than necessary.
"I’ll still put up Christmas decorations and a tree up in the restaurant whilst we are open for a take away, hopefully bring a small amount of cheer to myself, our staff and any customers that come in for a takeaway.
It comes as the Echo is running its #SupportLocal campaign, encouraging people to support local businesses this Christmas, whether in store or online.