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Avoca jobs at risk with store's Belfast dining option scaled back

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Impacted: Avoca’s Belfast city centre operation has struggled

Impacted: Avoca’s Belfast city centre operation has struggled

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Impacted: Avoca’s Belfast city centre operation has struggled

Jobs are at risk in the Belfast branch of fancy goods and cafe chain Avoca as it confirmed it will scale back its dining venues when it reopens.

However, the company would not say how many jobs in its kitchen and restaurant are at risk as it begins a consultation with staff members.

But it said it was reacting to findings that footfall in the city centre has fallen by as much as 45%.

It is understood staff of Avoca were informed by conference call yesterday.

Before the Covid-19 crisis, Avoca operated a large premises in the city's Arthur Street, with a retail section on the ground floor and a cafe and sit-down restaurant on the upper floor.

Now the company has said it will not be reopening its restaurant for the time being as it seeks to maintain social distancing.

Instead, it will spread out its cafe establishment on the upper floor.

A spokeswoman confirmed it will open for the first time since March - and lockdown - later this month.

In a statement, the company said: "Avoca, like many businesses in the retail sector, has been significantly impacted as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic - we've seen stats around footfall in Belfast city centre down 45% alone.

"For now, effort is being made to restructure and innovate our services in order to open the Belfast operations safely, and in accordance with the latest government guidance on food and retail.

"We are looking forward to welcoming back staff and customers in the safest possible manner in the coming weeks, with many exciting changes to come."

The company added: "This year footfall in Belfast city centre is down 45% when compared to the previous year.

"Regardless, our overall aim is to minimise any redundancies and to protect the Avoca business, and brand, for the future.

"Unfortunately today, some restaurant and kitchen staff roles have been put at risk of redundancy, although none have been confirmed. A formal consultation process will now follow."

The business was established by the Pratt family, and originated in the Co Wicklow village of Avoca. It was sold to catering giant Aramark in 2015.

But cafes and restaurants in Belfast city centre have been hit by an absence of office workers.

A survey by Belfast Chamber in August found that just 5% of office workers at businesses in the city were back at their desks. It is understood that percentage has remained steady since then.

The Chamber said the drop in office workers has hit both sales and footfall in the city by 50% in recent months.

Businesses in hospitality and retail are particularly dependent on office workers.

Many indicated to the Chamber that they believe the worst hit to business was still to come, with concerns mounting over an increase in business closures and job losses.

And 40% of businesses told the Chamber that they do not anticipate a full return to the office until the end of the year at least.

Mark Crimmins, the head of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, has said that out of an anticipated 1,200 staff at its headquarters in Donegall Square, only 50 were coming into the office at present.

In an interview last month, he said Covid-19 had precipitated pre-existing trends in city centres. He said: "I think gradually, city centres from an office worker perspective will start to repopulate but not to the same extent as they were previously."

Belfast Telegraph