Lockdowns, local restrictions, and a 10pm curfew followed by a 6pm closing rule and an alcohol ban – what a year it’s been for the hospitality industry in Wales.
Wales is currently in a Tier 4 lockdown and, unlike with the fire-break when it was just for two weeks, the restrictions on pubs are set to be much more long lasting.
And there’s currently no date as to when businesses in the hospitality industry will be able to reopen again.
Many businesses have been left with no choice but to close their doors for good this year while others have jumped straight into the deep end and decided to open a new restaurant in the middle of a pandemic.
Here business owners and managers across Wales open up about launching a business during lockdown, dealing with the ever-changing restrictions, and what they think about the future for the industry.
Pasture, Cardiff, opened in October
Owner Sam Elliott was supposed to open his steak restaurant and bar in High Street in March. Instead he had to postpone and open in October when Cardiff was under local lockdown restrictions. You can read our first review of Pasture here.
Straightaway he was met with a problem where only Cardiff residents and family and friends who lived together could dine there, which led to cancellations from diners outside the city centre. But the owner was determined to carry on.
“We had to very quickly try and fill the restaurant with local Cardiff people. It was a different opening to what you would normally imagine,” he said. “We managed to trade for two and a half weeks and then the fire-break came in.”
This meant that Sam had to close the restaurant he had only just opened, which had been busy and received good feedback in its opening weeks.
A sister venue to the Bristol steak restaurant and bar, Pasture is the second venture for the Pasture group, creating 42 new jobs and serving up eye-popping tomahawk steaks.
One of the reasons why Sam pushed for the opening to go ahead, despite the difficulties, was due to the staff he had already employed at the beginning of the year.
“We made a commitment back in March,” he said. “I employed my general manager in March when we were meant to be opening and he’s been on my books since then. I’ve been responsible for him and many other staff.
“We had no support from the Welsh Government in terms of grants – the original furlough scheme we weren’t eligible for because of how new we were.
“It was completely on my shoulders which was challenging. Thankfully we’ve got a great team of staff here and they are all very supportive.
“We had to take it on the chin. With our Bristol restaurant, thankfully while one has been shut the other has been trading. It means that Bristol had to carry Cardiff. Today we haven’t received a penny from the government in Cardiff.”
During the lockdowns many restaurants decided to operate a takeaway service, something the 32-year-old admits isn’t possible for his business.
“We operate a very social environment where takeaways don’t work for us.
“The rules are very different between England and Wales. Trying to keep on top of what can be done – things change daily so trying to prepare for that is a really hard thing to do. We just take each day as it comes.
“We have received five-star reviews from customers. To have 45 staff still on the books is a positive. The feedback from everyone who’s visited has been incredible.”
Pasture was open throughout December between the hours of 11am and 6pm. The 6pm closure and alcohol ban was something owner Sam didn’t understand, describing it as “very strange”.
He added: “We have been so overwhelmed by how the Welsh people have supported us, we have been full all the way through and we are really thankful. The loss of alcohol was quite a big shock when we were hit by it.”
The announcement of the third full lockdown in Wales has left Sam trying to think of new ways to keep the business going, including by launching an online store.
“We are now planning on delivering Pasture in multiple different ways,” he said. “We are going to be opening up an online store, which you can order our dry-aged meat from, and going forward we will look to further that.
“It’s scary, another dagger into hospitality, and when we are finally able to re-open I just hope people will come out and support us all in Cardiff.”
Sam believes many hospitality businesses unfortunately won’t pull through this pandemic.
“It’s on the knife edge,” he said. “There are businesses that have already closed and there will be more businesses that will close.
“The hospitality industry has been hit hardest out of any industry. That then brings a lot of uncertainty within the industry because people get made redundant left right and centre so it doesn’t really inspire you to start a career in hospitality. Thankfully when we can trade we are well-received.
“We have a lot more bills to pay now. Simple things like printing and having to print menus for customers – that one element costs us an absolute fortune. And hand sanitiser, extra staff for checks and security is costing a fortune.
“I’m looking forward to a time where things ease up. We are operating at 50% capacity at the moment – it’s very tight rules and regulations and staff can’t be themselves and show their personalities and show their smiles.
“We could have easily pushed [opening] back but I had made commitments to the staff that I wasn’t prepared to let go for the sake of delaying it.”
Places to eat near where you live:
Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill, Swansea, opened in August
When it was announced at the beginning of March that Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill (MPW) would open in the summer in the former J-Shed in Swansea’s SA1 little did the owners know what was about to follow.
The restaurant opened its doors to customers in August – read our review here – and like everyone else in the industry, it has had to deal with the different restrictions.
General manager, Rhys Andrews, said the interest when they first opened was “phenomenal”.
“It’s certainly been an interesting one. But to develop and open a brand new restaurant in a national pandemic is a great achievement,” he said.
“The first couple of months were really positive and showed that there is certainly an appetite to dine out in Swansea.
“It was the fact that having opened the doors we then had to close following the Welsh Government’s fire-break. It was tough on the team.
“There is a really good team here at MPW Swansea and we’ve all had to adapt to the ever-changing environment but we’ve managed it really well.”
The announcement at the start of December that pubs, restaurants, and cafes wouldn’t be able to serve alcohol at all and would be unable to open to customers beyond 6pm meant that many businesses reacted by shutting their pubs.
However, despite a growing number deciding to close, MPW made the decision to remain open and offer non-alcoholic cocktails for guests to enjoy.
The venue’s marketing, events, and PR manager, Jo Roberts, said: “It’s frustrating because it’s going to encourage people to have house parties where it’s better for them to be in an environment like us where it’s controlled.”
Jo admitted it had been such a rollercoaster for the hospitality industry.
General manager Rhys said he felt the hospitality industry had been “a scapegoat” during the pandemic.
“First and foremost is the health and safety of both guests and staff so everything we’ve done has been focused around that so guests can visit us assured all has been done to make their visit an enjoyable one. Stock management has also been one area that we’ve had to focus on, especially as the majority of what we serve is fresh so making sure everything arrives on time was key in the run up to the re-opening,” he said.
Despite everything, the 35-year-old is feeling positive for the future.
“We’ve invested in the city and created new jobs. We’ve also given the people of Swansea and south Wales a fantastic new venue where they can visit for a fabulous meal or drinks. Now that really is something to be positive about.
“Here in Swansea there is a vibrant restaurant and bar scene. This will now help attract more people to dine out so I’m optimistic for the future. The level of covers we’ve experienced also indicates that people want to eat out again.”
Gin and Juice, Swansea, opening spring 2021
It was announced in March that Gin and Juice would take over the premises of former Mumbles restaurant La Parrilla which closed at the start of the year. The drinks bar, which has branches in Cardiff, Bristol and Cheltenham, hoped to open in June. However, things haven’t quite gone to plan.
The opening date was pushed back to autumn. At the time October seemed like a safe bet – particularly as, when the pandemic first hit, many of us assumed that things would slowly start getting back to normal towards the end of the year. How wrong we were.
Gin and Juice co-founder, Steve Barker, has been faced with several knockbacks and delays this year. He is now aiming for an opening in spring 2021.
“You look at something and think: ‘Is it the best time to launch a large project or do you leave it until spring?’ Then the news of the vaccine started coming through and we thought Christmas was going to be a non-event. We have spent about £1.2m on it so far and got another £300,000 [to go] so it’s an expensive project.”
Steve was very fortunate that he hadn’t taken on any new staff for the bar in Mumbles.
“The toughest thing is the unknown and cost of having to learn and the chop and change and adapting – it’s the not knowing that’s been difficult.
“I remember saying to my wife at the start: ‘In three weeks’ time this will be over’.
“We had the Eat Out to Help Out scheme which was fantastic then, of course, the mixed messaging and in September they started to clamp everything down again.”
In spite of the headwinds Steve says he is hopeful for 2021.
“We have made a loss – massively. Landlords have been good to us but they are a business and they have got overheads. We went from having no debt to having debt.
“Opening Swansea, one of my hopes is that there will be no restrictions on numbers. I’m calling it spring forward – 2021 is something to look forward to. This year has been tough – there’s been no growth, it’s a horrible year. It’s been a lost year.”