Will some of our town’s bars and cafes never reopen their doors? What next for the hospitality sector?

Reports suggest that across the UK more than 30,000 pubs, bars and restaurants could remain permanently closed because the coronavirus shutdown has sent a wrecking ball through the nation’s hospitality trade.

Meanwhile restaurant chains with branches in Hastings and St Leonards, including Bella Italia, have either already called in administrators or are expected to do so, putting jobs at risk.

And this week Hastings Borough Council (HBC) confirmed that its plans to develop the old Harold Place toilet site as a restaurant are likely to be put on hold.

Hastings Borough Council had planned to spend £1.2m on development of the former Harold Place toilet block before leasing it to a national restaurant chain.

The council did have a proposed tenant lined up to take a 15 year lease on the Harold Place site but Hastings In Focus was told this week: “Coronavirus has interrupted the development plans of many companies and organisations and the council suspects that it will take some time to clarify whether the scheme for Harold Place remains a viable proposition for the company that has expressed the interest to date.”

Councillor Rob Lee said today: “The plans to build a restaurant there always seemed far fetched and it is no surprise that they now look unlikely. The town has lost an important facility in its main toilet block and the ugly hole in the ground that is in its place is a monument to Labour’s failure as an administration here in Hastings.”

Sean Dennis Director of Hastings Area Chamber Of Commerce says: “In terms of the hospitality sector, which is a key part of the local economy, it is clearly of great concern. As a sector it was among the first to be hit and the longer lock down continues the harder it and the town will find it to recover.

“Many have benefited from a range of government assistance and many have pivoted their businesses; restaurants for example turning to or growing takeaway services, has definitely helped but time will only tell if this has been enough.

What does a post Covid-19 future hold for the town’s hospitality sector.

“Entrepreneurs are by nature nimble and resourceful but we have to be prepared for a slow recovery and accept there will be adverse impact from business failures.   

“There will be opportunity though; whether that is for those taking on failed businesses or their premises or those that change their business models; so it is crucial central and local government, business and other stakeholders don’t just look at the immediate term but look to the medium and longer term when current state aid has reduced or finished in order to find new ways to support a strong recovery.”

Mark Straughan who opened the Downtown Diner at the start of 2019 has been hit hard by the shutdown, he told Hastings In Focus: “Our main challenge is that a lot of shops and other establishments are closing down within the town and there will be more after the Covid-19 lockdown that may not reopen. This is going to have a knock-on effect for us due to the footfall of potential customers in the area.

Downtown Diner was a lifelong dream of owner Mark Straughan who has ben operating a take-away and delivery service in recent weeks.

“After opening a lifelong dream, times could not be worse for us as an independent restaurant.”

John Bownas Manager of the Love Hastings initiative said: “Right the way across the country the hospitality sector is looking at the next few months as an unknown quantity.

“We don’t know how long it might be before premises can get back to normal trading without social distancing, and we don’t know how the public will react to using cafes, restaurants, and pubs while these measures are in place.

“We are, of course, in discussions with the council about this – and particularly in respect of how outdoor public spaces might be used more flexibly to provide more seating areas for customers.”

Read more about the plans Hastings Borough Council had for Harold Place, click the link below…

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