Hospitality business owners in fear of major downturn

Hospitality business owners in fear of major downturn

18 March 2020

MOST bars remained opened for business yesterday in what was the quietest St Patrick’s Day the district has seen in living memory.

Prime Minister Boris Johnston urged people this week to avoid bars and restaurants in order to contain the spread but fell short of ordering hospitality establishments to close.

However, Mark Murphy of Murphy’s Bar and Restaurant in Market Street, said his bar would remain open until he was told to close.

“We still have bills and wages to pay and stock to use,” said Mr Murphy. “We have no choice but to remain open. We are taking all necessary precautions and have soap and hand gel at all doors. If customers are worried about coronavirus they should stay at home.”

Local hospitality businesses such as hotels, bars, restaurants, cafes and tourism venues are already feeling the impact of the coronavirus downturn.

Stephen Magorrian, of Denvir’s Coaching Inn, estimates his business will be down by at least 20% due to the coronavirus threat.

Mr Magorrian, who is managing director of the Horatio Group, which owns Denvir’s and a number of bars in Belfast, is predicting a 40-50% downturn over the next quarter as the virus takes hold across Northern Ireland.

He told the Recorder: “We have guests so we are open, but we cancelled all entertainment and are restricting entry.”

Mr Magorrian added that Denvir’s had ramped up its precautions against the virus by briefing staff to be extra vigilant and conscientious about hand-washing, etc.

“We have extra hand-washing facilities and antibacterial gel available as customers enter and on the  bar and the staff know that they need to be constantly washing their hands, even if they have to keep a customer waiting, and they are told to politely explain why,” he added.

Gerty McCaugherty, general manager of the Millbrook Lodge Hotel in Ballynahinch, agreed with Mr Magorrian’s view of the impact on local hospitality businesses.

She said what while no wedding had yet been cancelled, smaller events — particularly involving older people — have been cancelled or postponed over the coming weeks.

“We are open for business as normal and our staff are fit and well, but our bookings for Mother’s Day lunch on Sunday are down.

“It may well pick up as the day approaches but generally business is down, particularly as we have also been affected by Flybe stopping flying as we would have had business guests staying here who have flown in from England.”

The hotel — like others in the district — will soon be starting its high season for weddins, with as many as five a week being catered for.

This is unlike the Republic of Ireland were government has been advised to keep guest numbers to 100 at any gathering and pubs and restaurants were asked to close from last weekend.

Mrs McCaugherty said that she was receiving regular updates from Tourism Northern Ireland and Hospitality Ulster and was keeping her staff and guests and customers up to speed.

“We have hand sanitisers and antibacterial gel everywhere throughout the hotel but are now getting to the stage where our suppliers’ stock is running low,” she said.

The general manager added that the hotel wanted to work with customers, particularly those who needed a postponement, in order to retain business.

“We will do all in our power to ensure their health and safety,” she said.

“All I can add is that we are taking things hour by hour and are receiving excellent advice and up to the moment information by Hospitality Ulster.”

Downpatrick café, Your Just Desserts in Scotch Street, told customers that it was closing from Tuesday afternoon until March 20 on what should have been its fifth anniversary of business.

Owner Gemma Cairnduff told customers on its Facebook page: “Guys it’s with a very heavy heart that I’m writing this. It’s a hard decision for both me and my staff. But from today at 2pm we are closing.

“The government have left us with no choice but hopefully a care package will be put into place to protect us for the future.”  

The café said it will continue to provide cakes and would contact customers directly.