New government rules came in from Thursday 24 September, which in addition to the existing Covid-secure guidelines (which are now law), includes a requirement for all pubs, clubs, restaurants and fast food outlets to be closed by no later than 10pm.
Publicans have put a lot of work, time and money into ensuring their venues are clean, safe and in line with government Covid-secure guidelines. This includes a reduced capacity (with reduced income!) to ensure tables are socially distanced, cleaning tables between every customer, signing customers in for NHS Test and Trace, everyone wearing face coverings when moving around the premises, installing perspex barriers where necessary, operating table service and more. They are also enforcing the ‘rule of six’ with groups of no more than six people allowed together and reminding customers they should not mix with other groups.
Back in 2005, Tony Blair’s government introduced reform of our licencing laws, which included the ability of pubs to apply for whatever opening hours suited the location instead of the established rules where every pub had to close at 11pm and nightclub at 2am, which saw large numbers leaving every venue at the same time putting huge pressure on late night fast food establishments and transport infrastructure with queues in takeaways, taxi ranks, bus stops etc. with arguments and disorder breaking out. Many of these problems were now history to some degree.
So back to the present, September 2020, with pubs, clubs, restaurants and fast food joints all closing their doors at the same time, 10pm… how were the first few days?
Many venues reported poor trade on Thursday and a disappointing Friday. The issue of course, for a viable evening out that finishes earlier, is it needs to start earlier – which isn’t always possible on days when people are at work or university all day. Saturday was a different story with areas such as the City Centre and Kelham Island buzzing by around 5pm and queues forming in some locations, with an hour wait for a table reported at the Benjamin Huntsman Wetherspoon as an example.
Note this week was Freshers’ Week, when the new university students have arrived and enjoying discovering their new home city ahead of the academic year starting next week.
What was observed on both Friday and Saturday night was come 10pm when the pubs closed, the off licences and convenience stores – which have not been hit by any requirement to close early – were doing a roaring trade in alcohol and snacks to take back to house parties (which of course are totally unregulated and a much bigger health risk than a pub!). It is also worth noting that while fast food takeaways and restaurants have to close their doors by 10pm, they can still do home deliveries all night if they wish, catering for house parties quite nicely!
While public transport appears to have coped in Sheffield, there was clearly a higher than normal demand for taxis with Uber implementing surge pricing, charging double the normal fare. In some cities the crowds in the streets that had all left the pubs at the same time apparently formed impromptu street parties, although there doesn’t seem to have been any reports of this in Sheffield.
So the conclusion – the 10pm curfew is potentially killing hospitality businesses and the jobs in that trade as well as putting people at greater risk to Covid. I would encourage all to raise this with their MP and get this policy overturned.
CAMRA’s response to the government’s 10pm closure announcement