THE BITE: Byron burgers for bomb bobbies, coronavirus threatens catering equipment imports and weirdest HMRC expense claims


Andrew Seymour takes a lighter look at some of the more intriguing industry titbits that have found their way into FEJ’s inbox or popped up on social media this week.

Byron is the bomb

Several streets in London’s Soho district were evacuated this week after an unexploded World War Two bomb was discovered during building work. Police were sent to Dean Street and swiftly put cordons in place before a Royal Engineers bomb disposal unit arrived to remove the half-tonne device.

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Luckily for the officers charged with bringing the situation under control, casual dining chain Byron was on hand to dish out classic beef patties and bulleit bourbon smokey burgers at absolutely no cost to the constabulary.

“Any police officers working on removing the WW2 bomb in #soho head over to Byron Wardour Street and show this tweet to get your #free burger and fries. Thanks for keeping London safe,” the chain tweeted.

The Met Police’s Soho Twitter account tweeted its gratitude in response, while other followers contemplated how they might be able to get their hands on a flame-grilled freebie. “Now where did I put that old fancy dress police uniform?” tweeted one.

Dial a kebab? I’d rather not…

The owner of a Luton takeaway that goes by the name of ‘Dial a Kebab’ has narrowly avoided doing porridge after being prosecuted by the council for poor hygiene, cleaning and structural standards, including a serious cockroach infestation on the premises.

Faisal Zaieb was sentenced to nine months custody, suspended for 12 months, with 150 hours unpaid work and ordered to pay costs of £1,500. Parent company, Y&A Brothers Ltd, was slapped with a £12,000 fine and ordered to pay costs of £1,060.

These kinds of cases seem all too prevalent these days, with councils increasingly prepared to take those who repeatedly fall foul of hygiene regulations to court.

Fines of between £5,000 and £15,000 are generally the norm for such offences, although restaurant operators that pay scant regard to kitchen hygiene might not want to get too blasé about the punishment they might face.

A pub in Warwickshire was this week slapped with an eye-boggling £136,000 fine for a whole string of kitchen hygiene breaches.

With legal costs bringing the total bill to almost £142,000, the fee would have been more than enough to build the entire kitchen from scratch again.

Will coronavirus hamper catering equipment imports?

There are some eye-watering statistics about the coronavirus and its devastating impact on the economy. The foodservice sector is certainly among those to feel the effects. Yum Brands, owner of Pizza Hut, KFC and other fast food outlets, has had to temporarily close 30% of its outlets in China – that’s some 3,000 restaurants.

It has no idea when they will be reopen, nor when regular levels traffic will resume. Unsurprisingly, it came out this week to state that full-year sales and profits will be hit.

Factories throughout China have also had to close or operate at heavily reduced capacity. Will that have an impact on the supply of catering equipment into the UK market place? You would have thought so given that some of the largest suppliers of catering equipment in the industry source a considerable volume of stock from Chinese factories.

I’d imagine there are some interesting conversations going on in the purchasing departments of certain businesses in Bristol and Reading right now as they debate how to limit the damage, or even shift production elsewhere.

In less than four weeks, the HRC show takes place in London, bringing all areas of the hospitality industry together. According to its website, more than 40 Chinese exhibitors are due to be taking part in the show, from companies offering uniforms and tableware to businesses offering kitchen equipment manufacturing services.

Last night’s news that ministers are considering a ban on arrivals from China as the coronavirus crisis grows will raise the prospect of a much reduced presence from those organisations if there is no let-up in the situation between now and when the show starts on March 3.

Sources close to HRC say they are closely monitoring guidance from the World Health Organisation and Public Health England and will follow any official recommendations that are made.

Spud shocker

Despite a recent focus on food provenance within the industry, a nationwide survey has suggested that millions of Brits are still entirely clueless about where the food they consume comes from.

While the humble spud has been a staple crop in this country since the 18th century (the average Brit apparently consumes more than 100kg every year), some 20% of people in a recent survey thought they grew on trees. Yes, you did read that right.

A further one in 20, meanwhile, are convinced that pineapples grow in the UK, while 37% think that apples are a tropical fruit. It doesn’t stop there. 15% believe that mushrooms, which are mainly farmed indoors in dark conditions, grow underground, while 11% mistakenly believe green beans are a root vegetable.

Many restaurant operators rightly pride themselves on ‘educating’ customers about menu provenance and origins. It seems there is still a bit of work to do yet.

The best bogus expense claims

It is not necessarily foodservice-focused, but there are people within the industry who will have had the joy (ahem) of filing an HMRC Self Assessment tax form ahead of last week’s deadline.

Spare a thought, however, for the poor souls working at HMRC HQ who have to wade through all the applications in search of bogus expense claims.

Every year, the tax office receives a whole host of imaginative excuses and expense claims following the annual self assessment applications. To wrap up the decade, it has just publicly revealed the most weird and wonderful ones it has received from customers who missed the deadline over the last 10 years.

So, sit back and enjoy the top 10 most questionable expense claims submitted to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

  1. Caravan rental for the Easter weekend
  2. I was up a mountain in Wales, and couldn’t find a post box or get an internet signal
  3. My dog ate the post … again
  4. Claiming £4.50 for sausage and chips meal expenses for 250 days
  5. My hamster ate my post
  6. I’ve been cruising round the world in my yacht, and only picking up post when I’m on dry land
  7. A music subscription so I can listen to music while I work
  8. Pet food for a Shih Tzu ‘guard dog’
  9. A DJ was too busy with a party lifestyle – spinning the deck….in a bowls club

And at number one…

  1. My mother-in-law is a witch and put a curse on me

As if it needed clarifying, HMRC confirmed that all the excuses and expenses listed above were unsuccessful.

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Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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