As foreign travel options shrink for Britons – we now have viable corridors with only eight countries – more of us will have to turn to the United Kingdom for a holiday.
The warm stone buildings of Bath sound tempting for a few days away in a city. So does the bustle of Manchester or Liverpool. Or maybe Bristol? Plenty of things to see and do in all of them. And they each have some fine spots to eat and drink – a key part of an urban getaway.
But with the Government’s unjust and foolhardy 10pm edict – already stomping hard on an under-pressure hospitality sector – the country’s lively hubs are an altogether less tempting prospect for the many people like me who see diving into the local food scene or visiting lauded restaurants and bars as pivotal to the fun of a city break.
Encouragingly, rebel Tory MPs are due to meet today to plot whether they can get the measure thrown out. This would be welcome news and would reinvigorate the joy of a city break. I implore the Government to drop the curfew, to save our cities and aid domestic tourism.
Take London. The capital attracts more than 25 million overnight tourists from other parts of the country each year, with a night-time economy worth £26 billion annually. You can spend the day with the Rosetta Stone and co in the British Museum, stroll among the 5,000 acres of Royal Parks, get lost as you follow the contrasting styles of architecture. All good so far.
But the evening is when the restaurants and bars come into their own. People plan their trips around the hottest new openings, places where you’re taken to new gastronomic heights. Often bookings are made months in advance, and often later than normal having been busy all day. There’s a loose spontaneity about nights in unfamiliar cities, where you can finish dinner and then wander to a new bar. Often the best memories are made this way, and it gives you a deeper taste of a city than any open-top bus tour ever could.
Yet Boris et al have caused this to evaporate. Last week I moved an 8pm dinner reservation to 7pm to try and avoid the pressure that comes with a deadline. Admittedly it was a steady, casual meal but ‘last orders’ were announced at 8.55pm(!), with interruptions every 10 minutes that followed to remind us that soon we had to swap safe distancing for the packed Tube. Service got less friendly; I felt as though I was a child being babysat, watching the clock before my parents come home and I had to scurry upstairs to feign sleep.
"Our cities restaurants and bars are a massive part of any break – as much as museums and galleries," says Ben Tish, the culinary director at Norma and The Stafford. "The curfew is not only unjustified but incredibly damaging to people’s perception of a fun weekend. Who wants to go to bed just after 10pm? I certainly wouldn’t."
Tom Aikens, the youngest British chef to win two Michelin stars, told Telegraph Travel that it was as though the prime minister had formulated this plan "in the bar at the House of Commons on the back of a beer mat", and the mass exodus when 10pm arrives will "increase the virus [and lead to] public disorder and crime".
He added: "[It's] putting off anyone wanting to come to the cities even more. Who wants to come to a city which is like a ghost town at night?"
And last week, restaurateur Mark Hix wrote: “Goodbye to the foodie tourist. I go to the city every week and I am shocked by what I’ve already seen: pubs, well-known restaurants that used to be busy, and hotels that still haven’t opened their doors.
“They may never open again – and these new rules could see even more disappear.”
It’s the same picture in other cities, at a time when we should be seeing a ‘staycation’ boost’. Angus Cameron Pride, managing director of Peru Perdu in Manchester, told The Telegraph that “each day since the curfew kicked in we’ve seen a dramatic downturn in our cover numbers.”
Brad Carter, chef-patron of Carters of Moseley in Birmingham, said that being a resturant outside of London is "always a little harder" and they understand that "many will now choose to wait to visit" because the restrictions are "taking the fun out of dining out".
"For our cash flow and for us as a business this is far from ideal, we need to stay busy to survive."
As tourists, what are we expected to do instead? I don’t tuck myself away this early on a school night and I definitely don’t want to do it when on holiday. Wanting to have a quiet drink in a bar past 10pm is a country mile away from the idea of hordes of lager-fueled louts descending on every bar in the land (and people can just drink earlier and quicker if they are so inclined).
Although rules vary in the devolved nations of the UK, apparently in England it’s preferable for us to congregate on the street corner with takeaway food and cans of booze after 10pm instead of calmly finishing a meal, maybe just drinking a coffee, inside. Many bars and pubs that have opened since lockdown have admirably enforced social distancing. The pictures of crowds ignoring any whiff of the ‘rule of six’ following the 10pm kick-out make a mockery of all this rule is trying to achieve – and one those in power should have expected. Prof Robert Dingwall, a sociologist who also advises the Government, said “anyone with a basic knowledge of sociology” could have predicted the outcome.
Yes, I do realise that the very real spectre of the Covid-19 hangs over us. It has been widely reported that this decision was not modelled by the Government’s Sage advisory group but was instead meant as a symbolic move to show how serious a second wave could be. Targeting restaurants and bars is perverse, given that data from Public Health England continues to show hospitality businesses are among the lowest for traceable infections outside the home.
Come on, Boris. If we are to get travel off the ground and give city breaks a go, at least let us be fed and watered until midnight before we trudge home to ruminate on Britain’s coronavirus mess.