'Ridiculous' working hours or forced closure - isolation rules crippling Bristol restaurants

Sonny Stores, a new restaurant in Southville, had to close for a week because of a staff Covid case. Credit: Instagram / @emlibendixen

A group supporting Bristol's independent restaurants wants the Government to change self-isolation rules as the city's hospitality industry is hit with crippling staff shortages.

In many cases, a single case of coronavirus amongst staff members has forced the city's small bar and restaurant owners to close.

Their problem is compounded by the growing number of workers getting notifications from the test and trace app, and an industry-wide recruitment crisis.

The British Association of Restaurants, Bars & Independents Businesses (BARBI) is calling for ministers to revise the self-isolation policy to make it easier for staff members to return.

"Staff, especially the owners and general managers, are working just ridiculous hours," said BARBI's Brendan Murphy.

"One I spoke to yesterday worked 112 hours last week - another 92 hours. They're working hard to keep their businesses alive."

The restaurant reopened on Tuesday 6 July. Credit: Instagram / @sonnystores

Sonny Stores, a new family-run delicatessen and restaurant in Southville, had no option but to close for one week earlier this month when a staff member tested positive for Covid-19.

At the time, owner Mary Glynn said: "We had all of our ingredients in and prepped at the beginning of the week. That is all now being wasted which is a real shame.

"It also means that it's not just us, it's our suppliers not getting the business from us, our staff members are affected, our customers have all been cancelled.

"There's a huge big picture here and it's frustrating that there just seems to be this one size fits all, 10-day isolation."

Other restaurants that have had to close because of staff Covid cases include Poco Tapas Bar in Stokes Croft, Bambalan in the city centre, and The Albion in Clifton.

Nightclub owner Mark Davis is concerned about the impact this could have on his business when it fully reopens.

Basement 45, in Frogmore Street, could welcome back members of the public in large numbers from 19 July.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has just announced that from 16 August, fully vaccinated close contacts of positive cases will not have to isolate.

However this only applies to people who have received two doses of the vaccine.

"We had one member of staff recently test positive so it means that we've got two or three people isolating," said Mark.

"Luckily, or unluckily, we're not open a great deal at the moment. I think going forwards, when we get to open hopefully, on July 19, it will become a bigger issue then.

"Being a small venue it's difficult to have bubbles of staff - there aren't enough to do that."

When hospitality venues were first allowed to reopen last year, manual contact tracing systems allowed customers to leave their details and business owners to judge how close a contact was and whether staff members had to self isolate.

The Government's test and trace app removes that nuance, claim industry experts, which is having a disproportionate impact on small businesses who don't have the replacement staff available.

"I'd just ask the public, if you go to a pub or restaurant, be nice. They're working as hard as they can," said Brendan Murphy.