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Kingston pub owner describes government communication on new restrictions as ‘appalling’

By Daniel Nuttman Dec 5, 2020

When the lockdown in England was lifted on December 2, most of the country found itself in tougher new tier restrictions.

One area that is particularly affected by the new restrictions is the hospitality sector. In Tier 2 areas, such as London, pubs and bars are only allowed to serve alcohol with a “substantial meal”.

Many have found the restrictions on the hospitality sector to be vague and confusing. Michael Benson, director and licensee of the Wych Elm pub in Kingston, is very disappointed about the timing of the announcement on the hospitality sector.

“The communication from the government has been appalling. Leaked and drip fed at the 11th hour and gave us very little time to plan,” said Benson.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, outlined the new restrictions on November 26, including that for Tier 2 areas such as Kingston-upon-Thames, pubs and bars must close unless they are operating as restaurants. Many pubs had to change their plans to conform with the new regulations.

Benson believes that their needs to be more government guidance of what constitutes a substantial meal. He said: “The government have not made it clear as to what a substantial meal is. I think they have stopped short at telling people what they can or can’t eat.”

“My interpretation [of a substantial meal] is anything that is chosen off our menu, cooked and prepared by our chefs and served, not a bag of peanuts.”

Benson also believes that the government haven’t considered the toll that the pandemic has had on pubs in general. He said: “The business has been affected. 50 per cent was wiped off our sales line in Tier 2 before lockdown and 90 per cent in lockdown two when we provided a takeaway and delivery service.”

“We are a community pub in the back streets of Kingston attracting families and professionals. We don’t promote heavy drinking or the behaviour seen in Soho, at wet-led drinking pubs, or mass gatherings like on Bournemouth beach, which I believe these draconian measures are targeting.”

The importance of having a local pub cannot be underestimated. People have developed friendships over a long period of time and consider the pub to be a place where they feel comfortable.

Benson understands the importance of this, particularly for their older customers. “We have some very elderly customers who live in sheltered housing. The highlight of their day will be to come to the pub for a couple of pints and head home for tea at 6pm before bed by 9pm. They are being deprived of booking a table and coming in to sit and nurse a couple of pints in the afternoon,” said Benson.

“They may not live to see the other side of this. Appealing to them to come and eat is a waste of time when their budget for food has already been spent on the food waiting at home. Most of our customers are desperate to keep this pub going and if coming out to eat more than just drink then that is what they will do.”

He also believes it is unfair on the bars and pubs that had conformed to the previous restrictions that they are being treated the same as those who didn’t. He said: “We are compliant and simply caught in the crossfire of others not conforming. The government can’t control a rule for one and a rule for another so everyone suffers and livelihoods are destroyed as a result.”

By Daniel Nuttman

Third year journalism student at Kingston University, currently the sports editor on The River. Interests include football, boxing and sports writing.

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