"We’re heavy hearted, but we just cannot open" – Why many operators aren’t reopening on 4 July

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Restaurateurs not reopening July 4 Sat Bains Claude Bosi Will Ellner Bancone pubs Coronavirus

Related tags: Coronavirus, Sat bains, Claude bosi, Restaurant, Fine dining, Casual dining, Pubs

A number of high-profile restaurateurs including chef Sat Bains and Bancone founder Will Ellner say they have decided to not reopen their restaurants on 4 July.

Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement earlier this week that restaurants, pubs and hotels in England will be able to open from 4 July​, many operators have confirmed their intentions to reopen as soon as possible and seen a surge in bookings​.

However, others are choosing to adopt a more tentative approach; fearing the impact either a second Coronavirus spike or low footfall in the weeks to come could have on their businesses.

Sat Bains, chef patron of the two-Michelin starred Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham, says the notion of not currently having any bookings scares him, but the risks of opening immediately outweigh the benefits. 

“It’s all pending on if there’s no second wave," he tells BigHospitality.​ 

"I don’t want to be a doomsayer, but I am being cautions, because the one thing I don’t want is to open and then subsequently have to close again. 

“It’s both a sad and stressful time, but by remaining closed for now we have a very rare opportunity to look at what we do at the restaurant and reflect on certain elements of the experience. And it’s giving us as a team the chance to think about how we can do it better.”

While Bains initially posted on his Instagram page that he was aiming for a late August or early September reopening, he adds that the date is flexible, and he would ideally like to be open again in mid-August if the situation allows.

“In the meantime, we’re refreshing the look of the restaurant, both in the dining room and externally,” he says.

"The hope is that when the guests do return, they see a difference and they feel confident about coming back again, which will be key for us going forwards.”

Bains isn't the only high-profile chef to make such a decision.

Yesterday (25 June), BigHospitality ​reported that French chef Claude Bosi has decided not to reopen his highly-rated flagship London restaurant, Claude Bost at Bibendum, until early September​.

The two Michelin-star chef restaurateur believes that a combination of very few tourists, Londoners holidaying elsewhere in the UK and a general downturn in eating out could leave his two dining rooms at Chelsea's Michelin House half full.

"We need to turnover £200,000 a month to break even," he says.

"I don't think London is going to be busy enough to keep the place going. My wage bill is high."

It's not just fine dining operators who are holding off on reopening immediately.

Will Ellner, whose fresh pasta-focused restaurant concept Bancone operates two London sites in Covent Garden and Soho respectively, is also not planning to reopen his restaurants to dine in guests until September. 

"We’re heavy hearted, but we just cannot open on 4 July," he tells BigHospitality.​ 

"We can’t make the numbers work on having so few diners in and we believe perspex screens and a half full restaurant will ruin the Bancone vibe.  

"Our customers love us for many reasons but one of those reasons is that killer buzz we so enjoy.  At the moment, I can’t see that happening with so little life happening across the West End.  We want to open when London’s ready for us."

Kerry Brennan, who owns Soho-based fish and chip restaurant Golden Union, says similar.

"After careful consideration we have made the decision not to open for a little while longer," she says.

"We love being part of the Soho community and sadly now we are unable to fulfil that. Despite London beginning its journey back to normality, whilst there are very few workers, shoppers, tourists, and theatre goers in town we will remain closed."

There's also the notion that, particularly in terms of reopening pubs, should the sun come out on Saturday 4 July it could prove to be a recipe for disaster in terms of trying to maintain crowd control in the midst of what is an ongoing pandemic. 

"With the whole Dominic Cummings thing Boris lost the dressing room, if you like," says James Cuthbertson, who operates two West Sussex pubs: The Lockhart Tavern in Haywards Heath, and The Anchor Tap in Horsham.

"There's a lot of pent up emotion from that. That combined with a sunny Saturday that falls the day after pay day for most could lead to a shit storm for pubs.

"And having launched a few venues, the prospect of opening a pub with staff that have had three months off and are also dealing with new procedures is not attractive. Reopening on Saturday just doesn't make any sense."

Cuthbertson tells BigHospitality​ he plans to wait at least a few weeks to see other operator's experience of reopening and whether the recent relaxing of lockdown measures more generally triggers a rise in the R number, which represents the amount of people one infected person will pass the virus on to.

He adds that the two venues will likely open early in the week to give his staff time to acclimatise prior to the weekend rush.

"I'm not judging anyone that reopens as I appreciate people might need to, but it's not for me and I think it has the potential to give the pub industry a bad name.

"The Daily Mail are going to have field day, they've probably already written the story."

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