Well, technically, we’re not. As things stand, you’re probably more likely to die from contracting the flu than the Coronavirus (or Covid-19 as it is now more formerly known). But it’s attitudes like that which could prove to be very bad news not just for the hospitality sector, but business in general.
People are becoming panicky, and businesses are starting to feel the pinch. Beer maker Corona, for example, has reportedly warned it's facing its worst quarter in 10 years as a result of the outbreak, with a £132m loss of earnings in China alone. Today troubled airline Flybe collapsed, just five days after the boss of British Airways’ owner IAG warned that the Coronavirus would push weaker airlines “over the edge”. And the new James Bond film, No Time To Die, has had its release pushed back by several months after fears that the Coronavirus could impact the global box office by as much as $5bn.
Yet true. The mounting hysteria surrounding the spread of the virus has, understandably, caused many to become more wary of how often they venture beyond the safety of their homes. And that decline in footfall could spell disaster for bars and restaurants.
Is there evidence to suggest restaurants are already being affected?
Plenty, thanks to a combination of fear, unfounded prejudice, and reduced tourism. Earlier this week, trade body UKHospitality told the BBC its members in the capital are currently seeing a 10-15% reduction in bookings, words that have been echoed across the industry. Chinese operators across the UK, in particular, have been struggling, with some restaurateurs in Chinatown reporting a significant dip in trade (not something, incidentally, that has been similarly registered by Italian restaurants, despite the significant outbreak of Coronavirus cases in Italy). A spokesperson for the Baozilnn group told BigHospitality last month that it had seen a 40% drop in sales across its two Chinatown sites, citing the fall in Chinese tourists visiting the capital and the decline of western customers visiting the area.
And beyond Chinatown?
Low Chinese tourism has impacted restaurateurs across the West End of London, with chef Adam Handling telling the Evening Standard last week that the numbers at his Covent Garden flagship Frog had “been the worst in two years”; and Claude Bosi noting that early evening bookings had "dried up" with, typically, five fewer table reservations each evening. The lull in global business travel, meanwhile, is reportedly having a severe impact on QSR and casual dining traders that operate within airports in the UK. And further afield Colin Neill, head of Hospitality Ulster, has told the BBC that pubs in Northern Ireland pubs had lost hundreds of thousands of pounds while feeling the "pain" of the Coronavirus crisis.
Are things likely to improve soon?
The forecast doesn’t look good. While the risk remains small, the virus is spreading in the UK, with the Government advising those who suspect they may have contracted Covid-19 to self-isolate themselves in their homes for a period of 14 days. And with Public Health England officials saying that the widespread transmission of Coronavirus in the UK is "highly likely", more people will be forced to stay home in the coming months, which will seriously harm all forms of hospitality trade.
Is anyone benefiting from the Coronavirus fallout?
Indeed. Recipe box service Mindful Chef has reported a 165% rise in sales, with the outbreak leading to an increased consumer demand for online food services that offer home delivery. And as restaurateur Jeremy King pointed out in his most recent newsletter, citing an exchange between attorney and writer Libby Bakalar and her father (pictured below and Tweeted here), perhaps there’s still hope that it will all be alright in the end…