Chefs and restaurateurs from across the capital have responded with dismay to having being given one day’s notice from the Government to close – having only just been allowed to reopen after the second national lockdown – with warnings that the decision could force businesses to close for good and create huge amounts of food waste.
Voicing on Twitter the frustration of many in the sector, The Alexandra pub in Wimbledon wrote: “All that time spent putting up the decs, all the stock in the cellar and the kitchen. All the rotas, all the booking, all the deposits, all the planning. All the work we’ve done with training, distancing, compliance. Everything just gone. With one day’s notice.”
Responding to the decision, also on Twitter, chef and restaurateur Marcus Wareing said: “Once again hospitality screwed over again,” and called for the Government to close the country again rather than allow shops to continue trading.
Once again Hospitality screwed over again but don’t worry we can still go shopping, ♂️ I really do have to Q Gov. Why not Close the country down again push the virus back, roll out vaccine, open in March take the hit and stop this pathetic mismanagement.— Marcus Wareing (@marcuswareing) December 14, 2020
Hospitality as a scapegoat
The move to close hospitality businesses in the capital but to allow shops, schools and gyms to remain open has renewed calls from the sector that that it is being treated as a scapegoat for spreading the virus – despite a lack of evidence that the sector is responsible for the rise in cases of the virus.
"It's ridiculous to use hospitality as a scapegoat, and no other sectors where Covid is kicking off more than in restaurants and bars,” says Sven-Hanson Britt, owner of Oxeye and co-founder of newly-opened London restaurant Homestead.
“Yet again the hospitality sector is being made the scapegoat with no real evidence that it’s the main cause of infection,” says Peter Lloyd, chef owner of Sticky Mango restaurant near Waterloo.
“Yet with growing evidence that schools and young people are transmitting the virus up the age groups.
“The reality is we are being denied the right to protect our businesses and livelihoods and not being supported enough by the government who are ordering us to close. The new grant scheme just doesn’t do enough to cover the fixed costs of rent, utilities, pension and NI contributions let alone the costs and wastage of having to reopen, close down, reopen and close down again.
“There is no doubt this is a tragic time for all involved but if we don’t get more support we just won’t be hear when the dust has settled and the economy needs us all to perform to bounce back.”
The moving of the capital into tier 3 will have a knock-on effect on other businesses that were reliant on trade during the Christmas period, the Hospitality Professionals Association (HOSPA) has warned.
“The festive season, including Christmas lights and shopping, has finally given some encouragement to people to re-engage with hospitality. Now though, it’s all been swept away. People who are simply interested in coming to London for a hotel stay, staying outdoors and enjoying the novelty of the sights without crowds – are now unable to do so, despite posing minimal risk through controlled interaction,” says HOSPA CEO Jane Pendlebury.
“I was speaking with a London hotelier last week who was feeling confident, for the first time since the pandemic begin, that they were set for a period that would not only allow them to open, but would actually provide the opportunity to recoup some of their losses and help repair some of the damage of the last few months.
Now though, they’re in despair. Stock has been purchased, almost a full complement of staff has been brought back in, full anti-COVID measures are in place and now it’s all for nothing. Not only that though, they’ve spent money that simply can’t be spared for a period that’s no longer going to happen. It’s genuinely heart-breaking to hear and see what’s happening.”
“We’re losing business after business as they have to close for good. If this continues, there won’t be anyone left to cater to the UK’s hospitality needs once the roll-out of the vaccine takes effect.”
There are also fears that a lot of food that had been ordered in anticipation of a busy few days will now be wasted, especially in businesses that can’t pivot to offering delivery or meal kits.
A number of restaurant groups have reported having ordered large amounts of stock for the coming few days, in the belief that even if London were to be put into tier 3 it would be at the weekend, and that they are unsure what to do with it.
That went well. Fridges full to bursting. pic.twitter.com/c8WaMKUnj6— Stevie Parle (@StevieParle) December 14, 2020
Those businesses that do have a meal kit service have been directing customers that have had their bookings cancelled to their websites, encouraging them to eat the food at home instead.
Beef supplier Aubrey Allen, meanwhile, is calling for the creation of a site or campaign to help rehouse the ingredients that had been ordered but now can’t be used to help suppliers and reduce waste.