Sharon Clarke, Worthing town centre manager, said the town’s hospitality sector had seen a 20 per cent increase in Christmas cancellations, – but it was not stopping people from enjoying their Christmas shopping.
She said: “What the restaurant owners have been saying to me is that they are about 20 per cent down on what they would normally expect for this time of year, and any further restrictions such as Covid passes or table-only service would put more pressure on them as many are already stretched due to staff vacancies and it would further impact on revenues.
“Many businesses need the strong Christmas trade to see them through January and February, which are a lot quieter.
“However, I wouldn’t say that the new Covid restrictions and the new variant have affected the town from a shopping aspect. People are still out shopping.
“The next couple of weeks are the important ones for the town as people start to get anxious about online delivery times.
“Worthing’s footfall has been up the last two weeks on last year and 2019, so that is a great sign. People want to support local business and from a shopping point of view, they aren’t really seeing much of an impact.”
Andy Sparsis, owner of the Fish Factory restaurants in Worthing and Littlehampton, and The Fat Greek Taverna in Worthing, has seen cancellations rise.
He said: “Our restaurants have seen a large number of bookings cancelled, unfortunately not from out customers but the companies that employ them refusing to allow their staff to hold parties.
“We have yet to see a single outbreak of Covid cases in our restaurants that serve thousands of customers a week.
“We work hard to sanitise, test staff daily and we take the risks seriously. We hope that customers feel safe and we absolutely understand if they don’t, the choice is theirs.
“The biggest impact however is on our staff. They all need extra shifts and money for Christmas especially as they had reduced hours over October and November.
“As a restaurant owner, you feel like you have let your staff down when they need the money for their families at Christmas.”
Celia Thomson-Hitchcock, chair of the Littlehampton Traders Partnership, thinks the new restrictions will only slightly affect Littlehampton’s economy over the Christmas period.
Celia said: “I don’t think the new variant and the new restrictions will affect Littlehampton horrendously, but I just think it will slightly until it is absolutely clear what we can and can’t do.
“Lots of the local businesses have put in so many precautions around Covid already and the public have become quite used to those and in terms of the precautions they already take, I don’t think there have been many changes.
“I think people should feel pretty safe in Littlehampton over the Christmas period.
“Littlehampton has also not seen a decline in typical footfall for this time of year, most of the businesses have said they are pretty steady, busy and about average for Christmas.
“However, I know that people are thinking ‘should we be having Christmas parties’ which is probably the reason why we have seen a decline in Christmas bookings in our hospitality sector.
“I think people are feeling a little bit apprehensive about going somewhere where there are lots of people in an enclosed space. I think the social distancing aspect has really got to come into play but I’m sure most restaurants and cafés are fully on it anyway especially as we have seen new restrictions come in.”