Business closes for Christmas Eve after all bookings cancelled and takings plummet

Credit: ITV News Meridian

A business in Southampton, Hampshire, has been forced to close on Christmas Eve after all of its festive bookings were cancelled due to widespread fears over the Omicron variant.

Cafe and bar Mettricks, near the city's Guildhall, says the cancellations have cost the business around £10,000.

The business took just a quarter of its usual takings on Thursday, December 23.

However, it is the uncertainty that bothers the owner and his 46 staff members most.

  • Spencer Bowman, Managing Director, Mettricks:

Spencer Bowman, Managing Director, said: "Trying to make sense of the world and how we are going to operate in a fair way to our employees and customers is really challenging.

"There is not furlough to back us up. Thankfully most of our team were happy to have an extra day off in the run up to Christmas.

"What we are going to do later, I just don't know yet."

Traders working along the city's high street say it has been "much quieter than usual".

  • Councillor Daniel Fitzhenry, Leader, Southampton City Council, Con:

Councillor Daniel Fitzhenry, Leader, Southampton City Council, Con, said: "We've done a lot of events in the last few months and now what we are looking at is what we can do in the new year to help businesses.

"Our City of Culture bid goes in January/February to see if we can win that in 2025, so we've got a lot of excitement.

"We now need to come forward with what more can we do to help the high street and retailers and hospitality across the city as well."

Southampton city centre was much quieter than usual on Christmas Eve. Credit: ITV News Meridian

Omicron-hit hospitality businesses will be able to claim up to £6,000 cash grants and companies can receive compensation for employees' sick pay, as part of a new support package, announced by the Chancellor earlier this week.

Rishi Sunak announced three new "generous" measures to help the arts and hospitality industries get through what should be their busiest period, as restaurants' bookings plummet and theatres are forced to close amid a sharp increase in Covid cases.

Despite footfall remaining lower than pre-pandemic levels overall, the situation for some is not quite as gloomy as feared.

In Reading town centre in Berkshire, traders say footfall has been better than expected.

Alex Lloyd, Operations Manager at the Broad Street Mall, said: "The last six to eight weeks have been really good, we've been hitting numbers similar to 2019.

"Some weeks we've even exceeded them which is really positive for the retailers that we've got in the centre.

"Unfortunately the last couple of weeks has been a little bit flat compared to what we were hoping for but overall much much better than the year before, a lot less disruptive."

In Rochester in Kent, Clare Tierney runs restaurant Smoqe, which has had to deal with a vast number of cancellations.

Clare said: "It's felt really really hard, it's dropped off dramatically.

"Definitely this week, you'd safeguard your Christmas with your family but it has a knock on effect most definitely.

"It means we won't finish the year as strong as we need to in hospitality and I think that then has a knock on effect on the first quarter of the year which is historically our weakest quarter."

Many people have refrained from going out amid the rise of Omicron, with over 1.7 million cases of Covid predicted in the UK last week.