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Dublin’s reopening rush

The lifting of Covid restrictions was a sigh of relief – but the suddenness of it caught some restaurants and pubs by surprise, Elio Bonelli reports 

Dinner, Image/ Davide Cantelli

When An Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced on Friday 21st January that most restrictions would be lifted from 6am the next morning, the entire country rejoiced. 

It seemed that we were back to normal for the first time in almost two years. 

From 6am on Saturday 22nd January, all restrictions on household visits, capacity on indoor events, 8pm closing times for pubs and restaurants, and digital Covid certs in hospitality settings were lifted. 

For once, we all felt like this virus was on the retreat and that the combination of the exemplary vaccine uptake, the booster program, decreasing hospitalisations and fewer deaths had finally begun to defeat this virus. 

For most, the lifting of all restrictions was celebratory. For some, it came as a huge surprise and added extra challenges. 

The sheer speed at which the restrictions were lifted shocked many businesses. 

Many restaurants went from closing the bar at 8pm to opening back up the pre-pandemic levels in the space of 12 hours. 

Other businesses suffered massive staff shortages, confusion regarding the Covid certs debacle, and long queues in the immediate days after that January 22nd date. 

Confusion 

The Anti-Social bar on Francis Street in the Liberties is one of those businesses that had difficulties in coping with the immediate aftermath of the reopening of society. 

Tim Gilsenan is the General Manager of this nightlife staple and he explained that when people came there following the reopening on the 22nd January, they had “thought that Covid was over” because the bar was still running on bookings only. 

“I just think people lost the run of themselves a little bit from that point of view. I mean, we were able to handle it well enough ourselves. It was more so like people being left out of the cage as people were just dying to get to the bar”.

Tom Gilsenan

“Also, people who had bookings would bring other people with them and say that they could just stand and wait.” 

Gilsenan also explained that the whole announcement didn’t come as a surprise per se because of the “little whisperings” in the weeks prior to the announcement. 

However, the lack of build-up to the lifting of these restrictions did lead to some confusion among people and businesses. 

The Lab – Image/ Aoife Daly

Adaptation 

However, not all businesses suffered the same impacts that the Anti-Social suffered. 

Nathan Bennett,owner of The Lab in Thomas Street, said that “the speed of the reopening itself didn’t affect us as much as other restaurants because we were only doing deliveries and takeaways since January, and we had stopped doing dine-in since before Christmas. 

“Before Covid, we would have done only 10% takeaway and deliveries but because of Covid, we have had to adapt our business model and rely solely on these things,” Bennett added. “Our business would have been majorly impacted but only at the start of the pandemic as opposed to the end.” 

A manager at a restaurant in one Liberties hotel said that the restaurant actually benefited from the changing of the restrictions. 

January is typically a quiet month for customers and the ending of restrictions provided a boost. “One thing that we had to change was the speed at which staff would work at. Typically, during Covid, we used to get 15 or 30 [bookings] per night, but now it’s more like 60 and 100 or so bookings per night,” the manager said. “Essentially, pre-pandemic levels. 

“My staff are more motivated because they excel in a fast-paced environment when they are busy and that has definitely made a positive impact.” 

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