Tube strike: Travel chaos brings ‘mixed bag’ for London’s restaurants and pubs

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Strike action, London

London's restaurants and pubs saw positive and negative effects of the Tube strike, depending on their location
London's restaurants and pubs saw positive and negative effects of the Tube strike, depending on their location
The first of two strikes on the London Underground disrupted the journeys of millions of commuters this week, but for the capital’s restaurant and pubs, the business effects were varied, with some actually reporting an increase in trade. 

Millions of tube passengers endured further delays yesterday (6 February) because of the 48-hour strike action over planned job cuts and ticket closures, with a limited service running until this morning.

The British Hospitality Association (BHA) previously voiced its concerns​ that this industrial action would be ‘detrimental’ for hospitality and tourism businesses in and around central London – and in some cases, the organisation was right.

Interactive Map: Tube strike impact

Negative effects

Alex Hunter, the co-founder of Bonnie Gull Seafood Shack​ in Fitzrovia, admitted it was ‘a bad couple of days’ for his business.

“It was a really big hit for us,” Hunter told BigHospitality. “We did about 40 per cent of what we’d normally do. “We had over half of our bookings cancelled and there were a few no-shows as well. People were just thinking about how they were going to get home – dinner service was really affected.

Bonnie-Gull

“There’s nothing we could do about it - we just had to accept the fate.”

Maxime Alary, co-owner of the nearby Blanchette​ – which opened in December​ – saw similar negative effects. “We had a lot of cancellations as people were rushing to get the Tube at 8 o’clock,” he said. “We had 10 no-shows on Tuesday night and 10 no-shows on Wednesday lunchtime. We had a couple of early walk-ins but overall we definitely saw a drop in trade.

“It affected our staff as well, as they couldn’t get the last Tube to go home. All areas of the business were hit, and it will probably have a similar affect again next week.”

Frenchman Xavier Rousset,​ who co-owns Michelin-starred restaurant Texture​ in Mayfair and wine-focused mini chain 28°-50°​, yesterday took to Twitter to vent his frustrations.

"We lost a lot from the two days," Rousset later told BigHospitality. "We missed out on a lot of covers as a direct result of this disruption. Between my four venues, we’re probably looking at losses of around £10,000." 

And it wasn’t just the independents and smaller operators that were impacted this week. Multiple restaurant, bar and hotel operator D&D London​ - whose central London portfolio​ includes Floridita and Carom (pictured below) in Soho - lost 15-20 per cent of its business over the two days.

Carom-Soho

A D&D company spokesperson said: “Most central London sites have been affected, but Wednesday was a little better than Tuesday. We very much hope that there won’t be another strike. We think impact will again be negative but probably less so than this week, as Londoners learn how to deal with the situation.”

But another strike is exactly what’s coming. A second 48-hour walkout is due to begin at 9pm next Tuesday (11 February) - just before Valentine’s Day.

'Mixed bag'

For a few businesses, this week’s travel chaos was a ‘mixed bag’ in terms of its impact on trade, but it seemed to depend on the exact location of venues – some restaurants and bars closer to a mainline railway station appear to have performed better, as potential customers looked to escape the crowded Underground.

Richard Bigg, owner of the four-strong tapas restaurant and bar group Camino ​(pictured below), said: “Our site in King’s Cross was packed on Wednesday night, and we had a fantastic couple of days at Monument. Some people stayed later to catch quieter trains home. There’s been a bit of panic but everyone’s sauntering on.

Camino

“One or two sites were definitely quieter as a result, and we had a cancellation of 30 people which was annoying. But the trains were still running and people seemed to have just changed their timings around.

“So it was positive in some aspects and negative in some aspects – but on balance, no change. As such, we’re not feeling the need to run any special offers around it, we’ll just carry on as we are next week.”

Andrew Fishwick,​ owner of The Truscott Arms​ in Maida Vale, also saw some positive and negative effects of the strike, adding that lunchtime trade had seen a particular improvement, against a number of evening cancellations.

Truscott-Arms

“A lot of people were working from laptops and drinking lots of coffee during the day,” said Fishwick. “Lots of people had to ‘work from home’ over a beer at our place, which was good.

“On Wednesday night, we had quite a few cancellations for the dining room. People usually travel here and book in advance, and clearly people from the other side of London didn’t want to travel.

“Overall, it’s probably cost us money. We picked up the occasional pint and a pulled pork sandwich, but we lost some of the serious dinner trade.”

Positive effects

There were even some cases where restaurants actually benefitted from the travel disruption. Michael Hewson, manager of Threadneedles Hotel​ - which houses the 95-cover fine-dining restaurant Bonds​ - explained that business had improved as customers looked to stay in the City for longer.

Bonds

“It didn’t have a negative effect at all,” said Hewson. “The restaurant didn’t get many cancellations – we generally found that guests in the City wanted to stay in the local area, and the majority of our bookings were from within the square mile.

“Breakfast and lunch continued to be strong, and we saw a slight pickup in afternoon tea and dinners. People were coming into the City and staying, and I think the Tube strike kept them here.”

Minding the gap...

It may have caused misery for many businesses and slight trade improvements for others, but in the face of adversity, some tried to turn a negative into a positive; seeing the travel disruption as an opportunity to promote their offering.

London-based ETM Group​ was one of those businesses, using the disruption to its advantage by offering a promotion at its pubs for the two-day period. The group’s head of marketing, Jessica Dahlin, came up with ‘Tube Strike Respite’ – a 50 per cent discount on all food at select venues during the chaos. Customers just had to quote ‘Tube strike’ when booking.

The group’s co-founder Ed Martin​ explained the quick benefits that the offer brought. “We lost trade, for sure, but we’ve driven tonnes of extra business with that offer, which has been great,” Martin said.

“We had an extra 76 covers on Wednesday because of it, and what looks like an extra 100 yesterday. We wanted to try and find a way of making something good come out of the whole nightmare and we came up with this, which has been great.

“The customers that have taken advantage of the deal have been really happy about it, so we’ve had a great atmosphere in the pubs as a result. We’ll definitely do it again next week if the second strike goes ahead.”

Video: Travel disruption

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) will take part in talks on Friday aimed at resolving the dispute.

How have this week’s Tube strikes affected your business?  Have you been able to make up for lost trade with special offers or promotions? Send us your comments using the form below or tweet us @BigHospitality​ using #tubestrike. 

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1 comment

Entrepreneurship

Posted by George Theo,

Interesting to see the article above. I got loads of tweets from bars and restaurants, like the ETM Group's, offering up to 50% discount on food, a longer happy hour, free glasses of wine, free WiFi to check Tfl updates, etc. They were the ones whose trade increased rather than suffered. For those still vacillating about social media, here's another of its advantages. Email us for ideas. VirtuAD.

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