Wave of cancellations hits Welsh restaurants as Omicron spreads

Wave of cancellations hits Welsh restaurants as Omicron spreads

Welsh restaurants and bars have seen a rise in cancellations with the emergence of Covid variant Omicron.

The Welsh Government is expected to make an announcement on Thursday evening about possible rule changes, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Wednesday announcement of new restrictions for England.

Mr Johnson switched to a ‘Plan B’ which will see work-from-home guidance return, Covid health certificates become mandatory in large venues, and mask rules extended — amid a Downing Street crisis over last year’s Christmas party.

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Stereophonics and Tom Jones were due to perform at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium on December 17 and 18, but have pushed the gigs to June. It comes as Wales’ infection rate has risen slightly with the spread of Omicron, though coronavirus hospital figures are down.

Welsh restaurateur Owen Morgan has aired concerns over a surge in cancellations. The Bar 44 owner tweeted on Wednesday morning: “So Stereophonics gig cancelled. Watching the bookings cancelling already. Going to cost us tens of thousands of pounds on one day… just before Christmas.”

Mr Morgan — who has Bar 44 restaurants in Cardiff, Cowbridge, Penarth and Bristol — added on Wednesday afternoon: “Mass hysteria has set in. 60 cancellations now…. for tonight! Parties cancelling for the next 2 weeks also.”

There was some optimism from Natalie Isaac, director at Bar 44 and sister restaurant Asador 44 in Cardiff. She told WalesOnline: “Most of the cancellations have been related to Stereophonics being cancelled. That will continue, no doubt.

Natalie Isaac

Natalie Isaac, director of Bar 44

“But we’re hopeful, depending on the Wales Government announcement, that they will be replaced with smaller bookings and people coming into Cardiff for Christmas shopping, as that is normally the busiest weekend of the year in Cardiff.

“We’ve replaced some of the cancellations already. It’s been a moving situation over the last few months with case rates going up. Christmas parties booked for 12 are going down to six or seven on the day because of Covid cases, which is not really new.

“The key is for customers to have confidence to still go out. The working from home directive from Boris last night affects city centres. We already had that in Wales but it’s now been highlighted more in the UK-wide press and it seems to have been discussed more in offices.”

Ms Isaac believes there could be difficulties for restaurants in managing Covid passes if they were to be brought in.

“There is the possibility of asking that question when people make the booking, but a lot of people have already booked, so we’ve missed that window. Potentially it could mean taking a member of staff out of the game to check passes, and if we’re honest, everyone is short of staff already.

“At the end of the day the public health situation is foremost in our minds. That’s the dilemma most of us are having. It’s public health versus the reality of keeping businesses going.”

Chris Matthews

Chris Matthews is the head chef at Bully’s Restaurant

On Wednesday alone, 11 table reservations at Cardiff restaurant Bully’s were cancelled, with 15 covers lost for Saturday.

Chris Matthews, who has been head chef for seven years at the restaurant in Pontcanna, said: “I think Omicron will have an effect but I can’t say how much yet. It depends on what directions are announced for Wales.

“If one person in a party has got Covid then they have to cancel. It has affected things but I wouldn’t say it’s just because of Omicron. It’s the flu season as well.

“It’s worrying but there are some people who think there won’t be a lockdown simply because our economy can’t really take it. If there’s a lockdown the bigger worry is not just for restaurants but the the massive overall impact for everyone.

“For us I think it would all depend on Government schemes again. But how much can the Government actually do? I can’t say yet really.”

The spread of Omicron has had less of an impact on the pubs of Jon Bassett, who owns the Queens Vaults, and Four Elms in Cardiff; the Golden Lion in Penarth; and The Carpenter’s and the Pen and Wig in Newport.

Landlord Jon Bassett

Landlord Jon Bassett at The Four Elms in Cardiff

“To be honest, at the moment it doesn’t massively affect us because Christmas bookings are not a massive part of our business,” he said.

“The only thing that affected us was the Stereophonics concert being cancelled. But we imagined those dates would be busy days anyway, so putting it on in the summer might actually be more attractive for us.

“I’m concerned about the potential new restrictions. If it starts with mask-wearing and then goes to social distancing, and limits on households on one table — that’s where I’m waiting nervously.

“When we had that before, business dwindled. By this time last year it became impossible to stay open. With the limit on households to a table, I jokingly said that people go to the pub to get away from their family.

“In general, I’m hopeful about the future. Our business is pretty strong but I don’t think we can go through what we went through before.”

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