Restaurants "need advanced notice" of when they can open

By Michael McHugh, PA

Restaurants need advance notice of when they can open to rebuild dormant supply lines, a Belfast city centre restaurateur said.

Rough dates need to be established so businesses can make plans, Tony O'Neill added.

He runs the Italian-style Coppi and Eastern Mediterranean-influenced Buba eateries in St Anne's Square.

"It is important that we know roughly a date that we are working towards because we need to make a lot of plans.

"Even to get the chain from farms to suppliers through to restaurants is going to take time."

He said the authorities in England and Ireland had put dates on their blueprints for easing the lockdown.

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister at Stormont have said they will be guided by medical and scientific advice.

They published a five-stage plan for ending restrictions on Tuesday containing no dates.

Mr O'Neill added: "I don't know if they (at Stormont) are waiting to see what happens in other regions with everyone else.

"It leaves us in a curious place where are are not sure what is going to happen."

Last week he began selling food boxes which are 95% prepared, after many weeks with no money at all coming in.

That limited offering is going well.

Nearly all staff have been furloughed.

The businessman said he was still awaiting a decision from Stormont about waiving rates for the rest of the year.

He has been running restaurants for eight years with his partner Andrea O'Neill.

Belfast has seen a major expansion in its hospitality offering over recent years and the Cathedral Quarter where his restaurants are based had been popular.

He said: "The industry was about to take off.

"This has put us back."

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