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Restaurants impatient to reopen indoors but beware of blame game if there is surge


In the midst of the generally warm welcome from economic groups on Thursday to the Government’s modestly accelerated reopening plan, there was anger from restaurateurs who claim the hospitality sector has been “divided” by the reopening timetable.

Hotels will be allowed to reopen from June 2nd with indoor dining for residents, according to the plan, while the rest of the hospitality sector will be limited to outdoor custom only from June 7th. There was no timetable outlined for the return of indoor dining outside of the hotel sector.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland called on Ministers to treat all outlets the same, and allow restaurants, gastropubs and hotels to reopen under similar conditions.

It is easy to understand the impatience of restaurateurs who want to be allowed facilitate guests indoors as soon as possible. The Government’s mantra to date has been to expect an “outdoors summer”. But, of course, such an approach further divides the hospitality sector as it is a lottery for businesses as to whether or not they are able to facilitate trade outdoors.

Some have car parks or gardens, others have not. Some have space outside on the street for fresh air dining, others have no such space at all.

It is a good thing that the Government, under pressure from the hospitality sector, is set to abolish the spurious distinction in the anti-virus restrictions between gastropubs and so-called “wet pubs” that do not serve food. It was always a silly rule that seemed grounded more in conservative thinking than public health principles.

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The Government is likely, however, to resist calls from restaurateurs to cede ground on allowing earlier indoor dining, at least until the vaccine rollout is well advanced.

Restaurateurs should also be wary of pushing too hard on this. If reopening for indoor dining is speeded up, and if a surge, for whatever reason, happens to coincide with this, they will inevitably get the blame in the public sphere.

Restaurants and pub lobbyists took an outsized share of public opprobrium for the Christmas surge, which was probably down to complex interplay between a wider range of factors. With the vaccines rolled out, they might be better advised lobbying for more supports and waiting until it is absolutely safe for indoor trade to resume.


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