Ttonic among city centre venues temporarily closing over tightened local lockdown restrictions
One of the city centre’s longest-running, and most popular, city centre bars is temporarily closing as local lockdown restrictions are tightened.
The hospitality industry was already one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic, now local lockdown restrictions have made business even more difficult for cafes, bars and restaurants across the city.
And following last night’s announcement by Health Secretary Matt Hancock that from 00.01am on Wednesday, September 30, it will be illegal for households to mix in bars, restaurants and any other indoor setting, the management of Ttonic have announced the Vine Place bar will close from 5pm tonight, September 29, for up to a fortnight.
Sister venues The Point, Glitterball and Live Lounge will be closed until the team can review the next steps needed.
The venues play a major role in the city’s night-time economy and earlier this year The Point underwent a £100,000 revamp to attract more big names to Sunderland and stamp it on the touring circuit.
But managing director Andrew Golding says the new restrictions have dealt a further blow to an already struggling industry and, with the onus of responsibility on venues to make sure people are adhering to restrictions, it’s difficult for businesses to ensure people are from the same household and even more difficult to implement the necessary check procedures in time for the new laws coming into force.
He said: “Our venues have been visited by the authorities regularly including most weekends for months, we have been checked to ensure we are abiding to the restrictions set out by the Government with a microscope. Our last visits across the company on the weekend just gone was concluded with compliments and without recommendations or further action required.
"However like on the initial lock down, re-opening and when each new announcement has been made by the Government I feel we have not been given enough time to consult and review our policies and procedures with the authorities on this new legislation.
"Sometimes I feel as if we just shoot from the hip and try to interpret guidance as it is published with constant changes and edits along the way. As an independent business and without the backing of a massive bank you have to act fast and adapt to change with a true entrepreneurial spirit to survive. We do not have the luxury or finances to use a consultant when making such decisions, you do what you think is right, if it doesn’t work you change it."
The news that the venues will temporarily close follows an announcement by the management team at The Peacock that the historic pub will close because of rapidly declining footfall due to the local lockdown.
Financially, venues have had to invest in Covid secure equipment and training, all while having a reduced capacity and footfall whilst still trying to survive in the current climate.
Andrew, whose bars have been hit by an 80% reduction in footfall, says the new restrictions make each shift a “Russian roulette” as to whether the business can cover costs or even make a profit.
He explained: “When it all comes down to it, to survive, we can only run our businesses efficiently and maximise revenues from our seated capacity if we have a ‘perfect sitting’ and if all the tables have bums on the seats that have been made available (maximum occupancy).
"With the new restrictions it will be impossible to guarantee the venues can achieve this with the probability of a table of four now being used as a two and so on, and thus we cannot protect the business from running at a loss, every shift would be a roulette and impossible to forecast footfall."
Whilst not mixing outside of households and support bubbles indoors was previously guidance, this latest announcement has made it law in Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Northumberland and Sunderland, with those who flout the law risking fines.
Andrew said: “This new change in law alters things massively and puts more pressure on the pubs to get the customer screening process on top of the NHS track and trace, before table reservation and the seating process, right. Also, do we run two processes of checking now?
"We have seen in the past some customers are reluctant to abide by the rules in its full integrity and in many instances we have refused service and entry as such as this situation arises, if the ownership is now on the pubs to ensure households don’t mix I think this is a very big ask.
"We have ensured every single thing has been actioned up until now but this is the most difficult task to date and we will have to take the necessary steps to safeguard our businesses and do what ever is necessary to make it work. I am still unsure how we are expected to ensure people are not mixing from more than one household and this needs clarification.”