The late night hospitality sector is braced for “pain” following the announcement by the Government that closing time for pubs, restaurants and nightclubs is back to midnight from Thursday - but many in the trade were already getting cancellations and believed the latest restrictions were inevitable.
“In a way we saw this coming,” said Fergal Quinn who with his brother Kevin runs two late night venues in Sligo, Lola Montez and the Bourbon Bar.
The businessman said he already had some cancellations because people were “spooked” by the rising Covid numbers, rather than because of the latest Government decision.
The Quinns who own a number of other Sligo businesses, including the Belfry Bar, believe it is a case of “wait and see” whether people will now go out earlier to socialise. But Fergal Quinn says he has no doubt that turnover at Lola Montez will suffer given many of its patrons normally arrive at 11pm.
“I doubt if people will rock up at 9pm. I think we will experience a bit of pain,” he added.
“Will people adjust their nights out so that they can get to late night venues earlier - time will tell whether people will start going out at 7pm,” he said.
Formerly a night club, Lola Montez has already been adapted in response to the pandemic and as a result there is now no dance floor and no cover charge and food is served. Opening time was changed from 11.30pm to 8pm and Mr Quinn says there is a section of clientele who book tables for as early as 8.30 pm.
The business had been “rigid” about the rules , checking IDs as well as Covid certs but regularly come up against people using fake certs or trying to gain admission using a friend’s, he added.
“On a student night out we could have 40 or 50 people trying it but we are rigid so it means long queue as we check everything. It’s probably more difficult to get into the White House than into Lola’s, so much scanning goes on”.
The publican said he has recently been operating at 50 per cent capacity. “That’s because we think it is the prudent thing to do but also because of staffing issues”.
He said that while the ticketing requirement had been “fairly straightforward” to operate, it was more difficult policing the rule on face masks given that people “don’t need them when they have a drink in their hand” but do to move around. “We can only do our best,” he added.
Joe Dolan owner of the Bush Hotel in Carrick on Shannon, Co Leitrim, also said Tuesday’s announcement was “inevitable”.
“My head might say one thing but my heart tells me it was the right thing to do,” he said.
“We have wonderful staff and this (rising Covid figures) impacts all the community”.
Expressing sympathy for the late night sector “who have such a short window” he said the new closing time would impact the hotel’s Christmas programme. But already people had cancelled some Christmas parties and some businesses conferences.
“People are nervous of the numbers. They are going in the wrong direction”, said the hotelier.
Before the announcement “three significant events” due to happen in late November or early December were cancelled as people reacted to the surge in case numbers, he said.
Mr Dolan said he was considering “making the call” and cancelling some other functions which would still be permitted under the current rules.
“In the spirit of solidarity it may be the responsible thing to do. In a way it would be easier if the government made the decision for us.
“Our big worry is that the supports may disappear. They must continue,” he added.
Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners’ Association (LVA), said the latest announcement shows the Government strategy is not working.
“We were told that if we waited until the majority of the public was vaccinated we would be able to get back to trading. Well we waited and that wasn’t enough,” he said.
“Like the rest of the country, of course we are conscious of the worsening health situation. But this will still be really hard news for those working in the sector to take.”
He added: “Late night hospitality was closed for 585 consecutive days, got to open for 27 days and now they face another indefinite period of closure.”
Mr O’Keeffe said every time the Government “flicks the switch on restrictions”, there are consequences for the industry.
“This latest reimposition of restrictions casts significant doubt about the viability of the late night sector for as long as the pandemic persists,” he said.
Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland (VFI), said the decision will "effectively close many late night pubs and night clubs".
“It will also seriously restrict other outlets at the most critical time of the year,” he said.
“Restricted trading hours will also impact traditional pubs who have to cope with cancelled bookings ahead of what was meant to be a busy Christmas period as public health advice is to avoid social gatherings.”
Mr Cribben said it was “no surprise” the Government was forced to take action given the deteriorating epidemiological situation, but said it was “disappointing that the hospitality sector is at the forefront of these actions”.
Sunil Sharpe, of the Give Us The Night campaign group, said the imposition of these new restrictions "makes it impossible" for many nightclubs to open.
“Some of the promoters who have already sold tickets to events, they may be looking at ways to go ahead. But the vast majority will be closing because people don’t come out until half 11 or 12,” he said.
Mr Sharpe said in some ways the decision was “unsurprising”, but added it was also “quite sudden” and there had been “mixed messaging from Government” in recent weeks on the issue.
Ian Redmond, owner of Tramline nightclub on D'Olier Street, Dublin, said to expect nightclubs to close at midnight was "a little bit unfair".
Mr Redmond told RTÉ Radio the club had full houses booked for the next few nights.
“Do we cancel or can we convince people to go out from 7pm to midnight?”
The representative groups have called for additional supports for the sector in light of the latest decision.