'Don’t just cancel – talk to us!' - Desperate plea from St Albans businesses facing grim Christmas

Jovan and Olga Sipcenoka of Per Tutti have been hit by the cancellation of Christmas parties.

Jovan and Olga Sipcenoka of Per Tutti have been hit by the cancellation of Christmas parties. - Credit: Per Tutti

Local businesses are taking a huge hit just before Christmas as they experience a wave of cancellations due to the latest announcements by Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Pubs and restaurants are particularly feeling the impact as people rush to change their plans and cancel Christmas parties and get-togethers, due to worry about the rising numbers of those testing positive for the latest strain of the virus.

On Saturday, Farr Brew, which runs five pubs in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire including the Elephant and Castle in Amwell, had 12 separate groups cancel their bookings.

Nick Farr, founder and director, said: “It has a devastating effect on our business and every other pub or restaurant is suffering a similar fate.”

Per Tutti, the popular Italian restaurant on Holywell Hill is also experiencing this problem.

“Lots of party bookings have either cancelled and requested their deposit back, or they are postponing for January or February next year,” said Olga Sipcenoka, co-owner.

“Increasing cases have made a few people in some groups uncomfortable to go ahead with a party, but splitting the group into smaller groups or on different says is not ideal because it’s their precious festive time to get together. It is understandable, but it’s hard for my waiting staff who were hoping for more hours and bigger tips at Christmas – they are now very disappointed.”

Most Read

And it’s not only hospitality businesses which have suffered. Aisha Khayat, managing director of the hair and beauty group Bouyage in St Albans, with salons on the Hatfield Road, in The Maltings and in Harpenden, says her business has been hit hard too.

“We’ve had a huge number of cancellations and our bookings are not the way they normally are during the festive period. There’s obviously been an impact from the scare of the new variant.”

“It’s quite demoralising for us to be going to work and not having that same feeling being busy during the festive season.”

Aisha Khayat, managing director of the hair and beauty group Bouyage in St Albans

Aisha Khayat, managing director of the hair and beauty group Bouyage in St Albans, with regional manager Rachael McMorrow. - Credit: Bouyage

Aisha says they are so quiet that to boost morale and bring some festive cheer back to the salons they’ve invited residents and staff at St Albans and Hertsmere Women’s Refuge to go into for a pre-Christmas pamper “as a treat and a way to give back”.

She understands clients’ anxiety as beauty is a close-contact service, but says they are doing everything they can to ensure the environment is as safe as possible.

“We are wearing masks and have re-trained to reinforce Covid control measures, and we had a big staff meeting last week to go over these and make sure they are followed strictly.”

Sean Hughes, who runs The Boot and Dylans in St Albans, says he hasn’t seen many cancellations as most of his bookings were for smaller groups. But he knows it has been a big issue with some other businesses.

Landlord of The Boot pub, Sean Hughes, is leading the Save St Albans Pubs campaign.

Landlord of The Boot pub, Sean Hughes, is calling on people to Stick One In at Christmas. - Credit: Archant

“I just want to point people towards the Stick One In campaign," said Sean, who is part of the Save St Albans Pubs group behind the initiative.

"This campaign encourages companies who decide to cancel their work parties to buy their staff a voucher or gift, such as a hamper, from the pub or restaurant instead. It means you can still support the business."

Farr Brew run The Elephant and Castle in Amwell, which has been hit by numerous party cancellations this Christmas.

Farr Brew run The Elephant and Castle in Amwell, which has been hit by numerous party cancellations this Christmas. - Credit: Farr Brew

And Nick at Farr Brew has put out a direct plea to their customers who have booked Christmas parties and are now nervous: “If you want to keep your staff separate and your company safe… arrange smaller group/team meals. Let us know what you plan and we will work with you to adjust your booking or spread you into separate tables/dates.

Farr Brew's Matt Elvidge and Nick Farr.

Farr Brew's Matt Elvidge and Nick Farr. - Credit: Farr Brew

“Or if some of your group are unwell, please don’t cancel the entire booking. We are happy to reduce numbers if it means we still see some customers through the door. We just need customers

“Or finally… you can still reward your team with a gift. Talk to the pub about gift vouchers, brewery tour vouchers, boxes of beer or bottles of our gin, spiced rum or whisky. Show your team the love and keep your shopping local.

“So please please please don’t just cancel… call us and see what we can do. If you don’t, there’s a very good chance we won’t be here when the next festive period comes.”