REACTION: London restaurant owners rage at “disastrous” measures

The Arts Club, London

With London moving to Tier 2 restrictions and households prevented from mixing, restaurant owners in the capital face yet another setback. Here, a selection of leading names give their reaction to the situation.

Greg Marchand, chef patron of Frenchie Covent Garden & Frenchie Paris: “We’re now being told that we can stay open but households can’t mix so in other words, we’re once again expected to survive, be viable and look after our staff at the same time but with no support from the government. How are we supposed to do that? These new measures will have a disastrous impact on our business!

“We’ve already made sure we’re operating as safely as possible and we have followed the government’s advice. Now, we’re expecting the government to show its commitment and support to our industry as many livelihoods depend on it.”

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James Cochran, 12:51, Islington: “We’ve gone from having a fully booked Saturday lunch and being very busy to already having 40% of future bookings cancelled. The tier system is worse than in lockdown. Consumers and business had clarity. Right now, the government again is shirking their responsibility and instead, consumer confidence plummets and we face cancellations.”

Rahul Khanna, co-founder Pali Hill, Fitzrovia: “Restaurants and bars are how cities connect and meet. Especially a city like London. I don’t understand the banning the mixing of households in a safe setting that have followed rules and invested to make their premises covid-safe, including the government sanctioned Track and Trace.

“In a time where social meetings are already so limited, the joy of seeing a friend and breaking bread are some of the only pleasures we have afforded to us and one that we were glad to be able to facilitate. This ruling shows that the government has little understanding of how restaurants have been operating, or what they are offering to the public, if they think this is something that will truly control Covid-19 infection rates.”

Kate Frobisher, Urban Pantry – Chiswick: “As a brunch cafe we’ve been largely unaffected by the curfew and other restrictions, meaning we thankfully have kept our whole team in employment, but with the new tier 2 restrictions and people not being able to meet others from outside their household, I’m expecting to be operating at about 50% capacity, which is unsustainable and brings us back to the brink of the earlier lockdown.

“The ridiculous thing is that you’re not allowed to sit a table with friends but you are allowed to sit in a small restaurant with heaps of other people from multiple households. There’s no sense in it.”

Tom Brown, Cornerstone, Hackney: “What a f****** surprise, Boris and this Tory government shirking their responsibility when it comes to ensuring there is a hospitality industry post-Covid. The tier system doesn’t help us, or diners. We’ve done everything to ensure Cornerstone is safe, so if it’s not, then they need to go into f****** lockdown, not this cop out again. Why does London get treated as one entity? Every borough is completely different. Brent isn’t Borough? Where the f*** does London end and start? We might as well shut the whole industry down now, looks like that’s what they want.”

Marwa Alkhalaf, Chef Patron Nutshell, Covent Garden: “As you can expect, we have already had quite few reservations which have been cancelled already. We’ve had customers who contacted us looking to move their reservations to Friday which regretfully we couldn’t accommodate as we’re already to capacity at that time.

“This all came in just when we were starting to get busier and making enough revenue to enable us to support the few staff which we had kept from pre-lockdown period. To us, it seems unfair that the government is scapegoating the hospitality industry for their shortcomings and their own incompetence. Hospitality businesses reopened from 4 July and the number of new cases were low until late September-early October when schools re-opened and the government encouraged offices to bring their staff back to work in a shared working environment.

“However, now, it seems like the government is blaming everything on restaurants, pubs and bars even though the track and trace system is still not capable enough to inform people of the possibility of have been infected from having had close contact with already infected people and their testing system still does not have the sufficient capacity to determine if a reasonable number of people with symptoms have the virus or not.

“The government released some data that 30% of people who have been infected had dined in a restaurant before or had been to a pub. However, they didn’t say if those people had been public transport or not, had been back to office or have had their children back to school or not. They only released information that suited their agenda which is to blame the hospitality industry for everything.

“Now, they are not ordering the industry to shut, so they wouldn’t have to provide them with support. But, they are telling everyone to stay away from them because they are the cause of the problem. Then, they call your business unviable and unworthy of support and call your staff unskilled workers so they won’t support them either.”

Brodie Meah, Top Cuvee, Blackstock Road: “We have already seen a drop on larger tables which shows people are really taking it seriously. It’s hard to know how we can enforce it – do we need to start asking guests to bring in date utility bills? Best we can do for now is maximise on availability on tables of 2.”

Charlie Baxter, co-founder of Pluma, Amersham: “We haven’t been affected yet by the tiered system, but we know it’s coming. The 10pm curfew was a killer for us – we are missing out on the golden hour for sales: when the guests are more relaxed and willing to buy that extra bottle of wine, order that dessert. That time limit has had a subconscious knock on spending and socialising. What’s frustrating is that it makes no sense.

“Even in Amersham we can see people gathering in the street outside Tesco at 10pm buying alcohol to drink at home in an unregulated environment. It’s frustrating that we can’t continue to serve these people – we are health and safety professionals and know better than most how to serve food and drink in a safe environment.

“The Rule of Six had a pretty bad affect too: those big parties are one of the best things sales wise in a restaurant. We rely on them, especially in the festive season which is a really important time of the year for the industry.”

“We’ve seen a big dip in sales, especially yesterday and Tuesday. People are reluctant to change their times to accommodate other guests: they still want to dine at 7.30 but we need to do an early and late sitting to make the business run profitably. We’ve prepped for the worst and have a takeaway menu ready to go, boxes for the food ready to roll out. Let’s see what happens.”

Stuart Procter, COO of The Stafford Collection: “The most worrying part of this for me is furlough coming to an end. The industry needs an extended furlough if we are to survive as we’re being hung out to dry across the country. We were just starting to claw it back after being closed for so long and now it seems we’re right back to square one again.”

Tags : coronavirusLondonRestaurants
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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