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2021 was a year of chopping and changing for the hospitality sector. While most businesses were shut for the first six months of the year, the other half was spent trying to come to grips with ever-changing Covid-19 restrictions and guidelines.

January

We started the year under Level 5 restrictions, with Covid-19 cases rapidly rising following the Christmas celebrations.

Bars, cafés and restaurants were all shut and could only offer take away food or delivery.

Nightclubs, discos and casinos were closed, while hotels, guesthouses, and B&Bs were only open for essential, non-social and non-tourist reasons.

Essentially, the whole hospitality sector was shutdown, with little clarity on when or how it would reopen.

The general feeling from both Government and the industry at the time, was that the sector wouldn't reopen until after Easter at the very earliest.

February

As Covid-19 cases continued to rise, businesses were dealt another blow as Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced that no consideration would be give to reopening hospitality until mid-summer.

He said that the Covid numbers were "far too high" and that the Government and public health officials were particularly concerned about the emergence of new variants.

Meanwhile, two new up-skilling programmes were announced for employees in the hospitality and tourism sector.

The Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said the programmes were designed to help prepare the sector for reopening, whenever that time comes.

April

In an address to the nation on 29 April, the long awaited roadmap was announced.

Taoiseach Micheal Martin said the Government had agreed to ease several Covid-19 restrictions beginning on 4 May.

In some welcome news for the hospitality sector, he announced that hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses and self-catering accommodation could open again on 2 June - and would be allowed to serve food indoors for residents.

He also confirmed that pubs and restaurants could resume outdoor service on 7 June.

The reopening plan divided the hospitality industry, according to the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI).

In a statement, the RAI said that the reaction from the restaurant sector was one of "disbelief, confusion and frustration".

"We are calling on the Government to publish the medical and scientific evidence deeming a hotel or guesthouse restaurant safer than an independent restaurant, coffee shop or gastro pub," Chief Executive Adrian Cummins said.

Mr Cummins said that the decision to "divide" hotel restaurants and independent restaurants is "anti-competitive, inequitable decision".

May

As the weather started to improve, on-street drinking became a big talking point.

Publicans called for the opening of outdoor hospitality to be brought forward to solve the issue.

However, no change was made to the reopening plan.

Meanwhile, on 24 May indoor hospitality in pubs, cafés and restaurants in Northern Ireland resumed, in the latest phase of lifting Covid-19 restrictions there.

It represented a significant easing of public health restrictions imposed during the pandemic.

A Dublin city centre bar that held a "boozy brunch" event last year in which social distancing regulations were breached lost its licences to operate.

The decision by Dublin District Court in May, meant Berlin D2 bar on Dame Street would no longer be able to operate as a restaurant or theatre, or as a dance, public music and singing venue.

The footage of a boozy brunch event on 15 August, 2020 at the bar went viral and led to a garda investigation.

A barman danced on the counter and poured shots into customers' mouths during the event, which ran from 1pm to 4pm.

June

Restrictions lifted as planned in June.

Hotels, B&Bs, self-catering accommodation and hostels reopened on 2 June.

However, services including leisure facilities, as well as indoor restaurants and bars, were restricted to residents only.

Hoteliers said they faced significant costs of approximately €964 per bedroom or €72,000 for an average 75-bedroom hotel to get reopened.

On 7 June, bars, restaurants and cafés resumed outdoor service.

As a result, thousands of people across the country returned to work.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said it was a "very significant day for pubs and restaurants".

Following some confusion, a Cabinet meeting was held remotely to approve legislation to give legal clarity to the rules around outdoor drinking.

The legislation allowed for the sale and consumption of alcohol in designated areas outside pubs and restaurants.

The bill also extended enforcement powers to gardaí to ensure licensed premises were operating in line with Covid-19 regulations.

Meanwhile, the first in a series of live pilot concerts took place at the Iveagh Gardens in Dublin in June.

James Vincent McMorrow headlined to a crowd of 500.

Sorcha Richardson opened the show as special guest.

A number of measures were implemented to ensure the safety of those attending the show, including staggered access times, socially distanced queuing systems, hygiene stations, socially distanced pods for attendees and the wearing of masks when outside the pod.

July

For the first two weeks of the month, pubs and restaurants anxiously awaited a Government decision on the return of indoor dining.

Good news came on 15 July, when Tánaiste Leo Varadkar announced that they were targeting Monday, 26 July as the date for reopening indoor hospitality settings.

That same day, the Dáil passed the legislation that would allow bars, restaurants and cafés to resume indoor service for those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, or who have recovered from the disease in the last six months.

Two days ahead of the reopening, draft guidelines were published for bars and restaurants.

It was announced that the EU Digital Covid Certificate (DCC) would be the primary evidence for Proof Of Immunity when going into a pub, restaurant, café or food court to access indoor hospitality.

An online QR code scanner was developed to help verify people's EU Digital Covid Certificates.

As planned, on 26 July bars and restaurants around the country enjoyed the first night of indoor hospitality on since December 2020.

However, restaurant representatives said around 25% of their members would not be reopening for a number of reasons, such as lack of staff.

Some of the so-called wet pubs, which didn't serve food, also opened their doors for the first time in nearly 500 days.

September

Hundreds of clubbers returned to the Button Factory in Dublin in September for a pilot nightclub event, with most saying they had not been at a nightclub for over a year and a half.

The event involved a 60% capacity crowd, vaccine certificates and antigen testing.

Ahead of the event, Minister for Arts Catherine Martin said no clear decision had been made as to whether antigen testing would be used when nightclubs reopen after 22 October.

Meanwhile, Fáilte Ireland launched a campaign in September to help tackle labour shortages in the hospitality sector.

At the time, around nine out of every ten businesses in the sector said they were having difficulty in recruiting new staff, with just over two thirds saying they were finding it difficult to rehire workers.

Prior to the pandemic, the hospitality and tourism industry employed over 260,000 people in Ireland

October

Nightclubs owners right across the country were on a knife-edge, as they awaited a decision from Government on whether the easing of Covid restrictions would go ahead as planned.

22 October was earmarked as the date when nightclubs would reopen, and the remaining restrictions on other businesses such as pubs and restaurants would be lifted.

Despite rising case numbers, the restrictions eased as planned and clubs reopened at 100% capacity.

People queued hours in advance to get into some of the country's most popular clubs.

In the days that followed, more guidelines were issued for the sector.

Among the new measures, the Government said that nightclubs and late venues should only allow entry to people who had purchased tickets in advance.

November

In a televised address, the Taoiseach confirmed that the country was experiencing its fourth surge of Covid infections, and the Government announced updated restrictions.

The Cabinet agreed that midnight would be the new closing time for bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

Normal opening hours had returned on 22 October bringing an end to an 11.30pm closing time, but this was reversed.

The Taoiseach said they wanted hospitality to remain open.

He said they would continue to work with the sector to ensure the current rules around Covid passes and other protections were being properly observed.

December

Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced new restrictions to try to curb the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant as warned of a "massive rise in infection" ahead.

The Cabinet agreed to implement an 8pm closing time for hospitality and live events, as well as other indoor venues such as cinemas and theatres over the Christmas period.

The National Public Health Emergency Team had recommended a closing time of 5pm.

The Licensed Vintners Association said that most pubs would be unable to viably operate under the latest Covid-19 restrictions.

The measures are due to be in place until the end of January 2022.

The LVA said the decision represents a closure of the industry "in camoflague" and will cause many pubs to close anyway.

In a statement it said it would put thousands of people out of work.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland said the hospitality sector was "devastated and fearful for the future".

RAI chief executive Adrian Cummins described the 8pm closure as "a de facto lockdown for hospitality" which "is not financially viable for businesses to operate".

He called on the Government to put an emergency hospitality support package in place.

Towards the end of the month, the Government announced enhanced business support schemes for the hospitality and arts sectors hit by the latest restrictions.

This included reopening the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme to new applicants and a relaxation of the turnover reduction figure for the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme scheme to 40%.

There was also an extension of tax warehousing.

Mr Varadkar said the measures put in place a level of financial support that is similar or better than the support provided to those sectors when Ireland was in a full Level 5 lockdown.

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