Covid reopening: Staffing crisis taints reopening of indoor pubs and restaurants

Covid reopening: Staffing crisis taints reopening of indoor pubs and restaurants

Jacque Barry and her daughter Ruth contacting customers last October to cancel their reservations at Jacques Restaurant on Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork. The restaurant is one of many to be hit by staff shortages. Picture: Dan Linehan 

Thousands of pubs and restaurants reopen today for indoor hospitality for the first time in 2021, but a staffing crisis means up to a quarter of businesses will remain shut. 

Around 2,500 so-called wet pubs will open for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic struck, but industry leaders have said staff shortages have threatened the reopening for many.

Restaurants Association of Ireland chief executive Adrian Cummins, said many businesses have been unable to overcome the challenge of trying to recruit a full workforce in time for today and that 25% may stay closed.

“We lost a lot of staff during Covid when people moved to sectors like retail or healthcare," he said.

“Some businesses will not be able to open today and some will only be able to open four out of seven days of the week."

He said the extra regulations for indoor dining — only permitting entry for those with Covid certs and photo ID — also demands extra labour.

“There’s a huge amount of work with the new regulations because you’ll have to man all the doors, take all the contact details,” he said.

A meeting with government officials has been promised for later this week, he said.

“It’s important that Government now sits down with us to get these restrictions changed.”

The Licensed Vintners Association  said the reopening is "tinged with trepidation".

“There are a lot of mixed feelings about reopening and what it’s going to mean in terms of handling difficult customers and protecting the welfare of staff.

“For many in our sector this is not the way we wanted to reopen, but unfortunately it is the only option on the table."

Renowned Dublin pub, Grogan's, is among those not to reopen due to a lack of staff.

"Unfortunately, due to staffing, we won't be able to reopen for indoor service from tomorrow but hope to do so in the coming weeks. We will remain open for outdoor service going forward," the owners said in a statement.

'We won’t have enough staff'

Jacque Barry, owner of Jacques Restaurant in Cork City, said staff shortages are a real concern. 

She has been advertising for a chef, floor staff and kitchen porters for her popular restaurant but has had no replies.

“We have a great team to work the outside but we won’t have enough staff to open inside,” she said.

They are considering opening 50% of their outdoor space and 20% of their indoor space to accommodate those who would prefer to eat inside but they will not take any bookings for indoor dining as of yet.

From today, all adult customers will have to prove they are fully vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid before they enter a venue.

The documentation confirming a customer’s status is to be checked by pub staff at each entrance and customers will have to remain masked until they are seated.

Today's reopening comes ahead of a government decision tomorrow around the next steps to ease restrictions, including a decision to allow 100 guests at weddings. 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned couples getting married in August to plan on the basis of 50 guests being allowed.

The cabinet will discuss a proposal that would allow weddings to use the same digital Covid certificate as indoor hospitality. However, a number of ministers have questioned whether this proposal is workable. 

A protest of 200 brides-to-be will be held tomorrow at the same time as the Cabinet meeting, the last full meeting of the summer.

Irish Hotels Federation president, Elaina Fitzgerald Kane said clarity is needed as soon as possible.

"We are asking the Government to bear in mind that most wedding guests have been vaccinated while the weddings are being hosted in spacious ballrooms many of which offer in excess of current social distancing requirements.

“Wedding couples, many of whom have rescheduled their wedding plans a number of times, find themselves less than two weeks before their wedding with their plans in jeopardy again. 

"Over the past few days, hotels and wedding venues across the country have been inundated with calls from wedding couples asking if they need to ‘uninvite’ 50 of their guests. 

"It is important to them and to their guests to have clarity on what is permitted,” she said.

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