Closing pubs early may not sound like a big step but the hospitality industry is warning it will have devastating impact on the sector.
“People have this vision, it’s just a few blokes standing at a bar at 10.30. What does it matter?” says Oliver Vaulkhard, who runs venues across north east England.
“10 o’clock doesn’t sound dreadful, but it does halve your revenue,” he said.
The new rules will come into force in England on Thursday.
All pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues in England will have to shut at 10pm. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this will mean “closing and not just calling for last orders”.
Businesses must also ensure customers are served at tables of no more than six and groups are not permitted to mingle.
Pub owners say the earlier closing time will be “absolutely devastating” for some venues and will affect takings not just at late night venues, but at restaurants too.
“You can sit people between 7 and 7.30pm and when they’re gone they’re gone. You can’t get that 9 o’clock sitting,” Mr Vaulkhard told BBC Radio 5 Live.
The Vaulkhard Group only has six of its 15 venues open currently; its music and night club settings remain closed and those that are open were trading at around 60% until last week.
Tighter restrictions already introduced in the north east to limit the spread of the virus, had reduced takings over the weekend by half again, Mr Vaulkhard said.
On Monday, the government’s scientific and health advisers warned of a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks if no further measures were taken to limit its spread, in a worst case scenario, reaching 50,000 new daily cases from mid-October.
The night-time economy is considered a high-risk area for the spread of the virus, because people adhere to the rules less strictly after consuming alcohol and in venues where they are used to mixing freely.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told BBC Breakfast that there was evidence the 22:00 closing time has had a “beneficial effect” in the areas where the restriction has already been tried, such as Bolton.
But the Night Time Industries Association said if pubs and bars had to close at 10pm there was likely to be “a surge of unregulated events and house parties which are the real hot beds of infection”.
Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is due to make an announcement on further restrictions in Scotland later, which could also include curfews for hospitality venues. Pubs must close at 11pm already in the six counties that are under tighter lockdown measures in Wales.
“People will think it’s not that significant but it will have a very big economic impact and a real impact on jobs,” said Kate Nicholls chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality.
“In effect, it reduces revenues by 50% because you need to call last orders for food at nine in order to get people out of the door,” she said.
The curfew could push some venues out of business altogether, according to Martin Wolstencroft who manages Arc Inspirations, which runs 17 bars and restaurants across Leeds, Manchester, York and Newcastle.
“This is going to be the final nail in the coffin for many,” he told the BBC.
“It’s just so frustrating, so negative. After 10 o’clock is really when we start making money because that’s when we start getting busier.”