2020: Review of the year in hospitality

By BigHospitality

- Last updated on GMT

2020 the year the UK hospitality sector face its biggest crisis since the second world war Coronavirus

Related tags: Coronavirus, Restaurant, Public house, Hotel, lockdown

A look back at a year dominated by the C-word and which saw the entire UK hospitality sector face its biggest crisis since the second world war.

January

Paul and Emma Ainsworth kick of the year by announcing that they will relaunch their Rojano’s restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall, with a new name, look and menu, having purchased the freehold for the site late last year. Previously known as Rojano’s in the Square (a nod to Paul’s mentor, Gary Rhodes), Caffé Rojano will draw on New York City’s Italian American café culture.

French chef arc Veyrat loses his lawsuit against the Michelin Guide demanding it reveal why it removed one of his restaurant’s Michelin stars. Veyrat’s La Maison des Bois restaurant in the Haute Savoie was demoted from three to two stars by the guide in January 2019, leading to the chef suing Michelin and demanding a full explanation for the demotion. He was instead left with the legal costs of the failed case.

Aiden Byrne’s Restaurant MCR in Manchester closes its doors, with the chef-patron saying the two-month rolling lease at Spinningfields site had made it too ‘precarious’ to invest in. Byrne oversaw the restaurant in it first iteration as Manchester House, from its launch in 2013 to 2017, returning to the venue in late 2018 after it fell into administration.

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February

Simon Anderson departs the Market Halls business he helped found in 2018. Anderson says the move is to allow him to set up a restaurant and brand consultancy where he will offer his expertise gained from 14 years working in hospitality to food start-ups.

The first effects of Coronavirus on the UK hospitality sector start to be felt, with Chinese restaurant operators including chef Andrew Wong and the Baozilnn group reporting a downturn in sales. Chinatowns in London and Liverpool are hit particularly hard, with Baozilnn seeing a 50% drop in trade in the weeks since news of the virus first emerged in January in the UK, where nine cases had so far been confirmed.

Chef Nuno Mendes leaves Shoreditch restaurant Mãos that he launched with Hostem fashion boutique co-founder James Brown within hybrid gallery and retail space Blue Mountain School in 2018. The restaurant, that features a 16-seat communal table, later relaunches with a more traditional format with executive chef Edoardo Pellicano at the helm.

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March

The restaurant industry is thrown into disarray following a press conference by Boris Johnson in the middle of the month that advises people stay away from pubs and restaurants to help contain the spread of Coronavirus. A week later the Prime Minister takes to the rostrum again to announce a full national lockdown, with all but a few businesses forced to close and people instructed to stay at home and not mix with each other. As part of the rules, people are advised to stay at least two metres apart from each other.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak provides some respite to the sector with the launch of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme JRS - more commonly referred to as furlough - to help struggling businesses through the pandemic. The scheme’s end date is extended - with modifications also made to it - with the end of April 2021 the latest deadline subsequently provided by the Government later in the year. Restaurant and BigHospitality launch their United We Stand campaign to provide information and resources to support the sector.

In non Coronavirus-related news, French chef and restaurateur Michel Roux Sr dies at the age of 78 following a long illness. Alongside his brother Albert, Michel opened Le Gavroche in Mayfair in 1967, followed by the Waterside Inn in Bray in 1972. The restaurants were both awarded stars in the first Michelin Guide Great Britain and Ireland in 1974, with Le Gavroche becoming the first British restaurant to win three Michelin stars in 1982, and the Waterside Inn following suit three years later.

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April

Mark Hix’s restaurant business is placed into administration with the chef later saying that the decision was done without his support. The chef restaurateur describes the last couple of weeks as the toughest he has faced since opening his first restaurant in London’s Farringdon in 2008. Hix makes a return later in the year, taking on The Fox Inn in Corscombe, Dorset.

Tom Kerridge and a group of volunteers from Marlow raise over £100,000 to fund free meals for NHS workers in neighbouring towns and communities in less than 48 hours. The Meals from Marlow starts as a temporary campaign that initially commits to serving 600 meals a day for the next six weeks but which later becomes permanent. It has so far delivered almost a million meals.

London restaurant operators Patty & Bun and Pizza Pilgrims lead the charge in what becomes a burgeoning market for restaurant meal kits. The restaurant brands, which created meal kits for customers who live near their restaurants to cook at home, announce that their offers are going nationwide via delivery with logistics companies.

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May

Giraffe and Ed’s Easy Diner owner Boparan completes on a deal to acquire restaurant chain Carluccio’s. The sale saw it take on the Italian restaurant group’s 30 UK sites, saving more than 800 jobs in a deal worth just £3m. A further 40 Carluccio’s sites are, however, closed permanently, with a loss of more than a thousand jobs. The group plans to eventually convert 10 of the sites to its fast-casual chicken brand Slim Chickens.

Nathan Outlaw’s London restaurant Siren in The Goring Hotel in London announces it will not re-open post lockdown. The restaurant opened its doors at the Belgravia hotel last summer with a menu of dishes largely based on seafood sourced from Cornwall.

McDonald’s becomes the first hospitality group to commit to reopening as much of its restaurant estate as possible. From June the fast food giant says it will begin to reopen all its 924 drive-thru restaurants - permitted under lockdown restrictions that allow hospitality businesses to do takeaway and delivery.

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June

Prime Minister Boris Johnson sets a date of 4 July for businesses, including those in the hospitality sector, to reopen. Following pressure from businesses and trade organisations, he also announces a reduction of the two-metre rule to ‘one-metre plus’, giving restaurants and pubs some grace on how many people they can safely have in the venues.

The middle of the year sees a slew  of high-profile restaurants announcing they will not reopen as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. These include Brett Graham’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant The Ledbury, Mayfair’s Indian Accent, two-star The Greenhouse, Castle Terrace and Le Caprice in St James’s, which calls time after nearly 38 years trading. Having announced the month before that his restaurant Siren won’t reopen, Nathan Outlaw also permanently closes his flagship, two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Port Isaac, Cornwall, saying he will reopen it as a more informal restaurant called Outlaw’s New Road.

Medium-sized restaurant groups also start to show the strain of the pandemic, with The Seafood Pub Company entering into administration and The Rick Stein Group announcing that its Rick Stein seafood restaurants in Marlborough, Wiltshire, and in Porthleven, Cornwall, will close. The Porthleven restaurant is later purchased by chef/restaurateur Michael Caines.

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July

Positivity is in the air as lockdown lifts and Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out provides a much needed boost to hospitality. 4 July is dubbed ‘Super Saturday’ as reservations provider Quandoo reveals that 44,000 bookings have been made since the Government announced hospitality businesses in England would be allowed to re-open. It feels as if things are finally getting back to normal with Coronavirus cases dropping across the country. It also seems like the Government is on the industry’s side with Sunak in particular hailed as some sort of briefcase wielding superhero. Further closures and onerous restrictions on restaurants seem unlikely.

But it’s not to last. After an encouraging bounce back turbocharged by Eat Out To Help Out things slow down considerably for most, and it’s revealed that the sector lost £30b in the second quarter of 2020 due to lockdown. The North also gets its first taste of heavy-handed treatment from Westminster as last minute rule changes that prevent people from meeting indoors with other household see a flurry of cancellations.  

In other news, patisserie maestro Dominique Ansel makes a French exit and leaves London completely and Dishoom makes a major diversification play opening four delivery kitchens in the capital. Mandatory calorie labelling becomes compulsory for restaurants employing over 250.

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August

August is a mixed bag for the industry. Further analysis shows that Eat Out To Help Out made a bigger difference to restaurant coffers than anyone predicted. But this is overshadowed by dire overall sales for most casual dining brands which - coupled with the three-month hiatus earlier in the year - resulted in much pain for larger, established operators. Wahaca shutters over a third of its estate and PizzaExpress’ CVA sees the closure of 73 restaurants.

The cracks also start to show in businesses that relied heavily on commuters. Hospitality might have re-opened for business, but very few offices have, causing Pret a Manger to shed some 3,000 staff. An extraordinary fall from grace for one of the sector’s most successful and admired brands. London-centric sushi and bento chain Wasabi also announces a CVA.

Robin and Sarah Gill close their highly influential The Dairy in Clapham - only to reopen the restaurant in Bermondsey a couple of weeks later; while Polpo co-founder Russell Norman steps down from his role as director of the group.

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September

Fears of a second wave of Coronavirus grow triggering a barrage of onerous restrictions on restaurants. These include face masks for front of house staff, the rule of six, table service-only and - worse of all - the 10pm curfew. With most operators already on the ropes this is a kick in the teeth, further weakening consumer confidence and causing significant operational and financial headaches.

More than 100 UK hospitality businesses write directly to the PM to warn that he must personally do more to help them. It details how the restrictions have ‘made the fight to survive even harder’, adding that prior to them being introduced half of all hospitality businesses already did not believe they would survive beyond the middle of 2021.

Tributes pour in for legendary restaurateur and design guru Sir Terence Conran who dies at the age of 88. Andrew Wong’s City restaurant Kym’s closes permanently.

In better news, The Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards Top 100 Auction raises over £117k for industry charity Hospitality Action, Vacherin head chef Nick Smith wins National Chef of the Year and industry favourite Noble Rot opens a Soho outpost.

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October

The Government’s Tier system is introduced. Large swathes of the North go into Tier 3 straight away, forcing pubs that can’t serve food to close. Rows break out as some cities and areas attempt to resist, but ultimately the Government has its way.

A different but equally devastating Tier system is introduced in Scotland and sees all restaurants in Glasgow and Edinburgh close their dining rooms.

Later in the month London’s Coronavirus alert level is raised. In response, the hospitality industry converges on Parliament Square to peacefully protest the new restrictions and the lack of support being offered to the sector by Government.

Boparan Restaurant Group makes another significant purchase of the year, this time acquiring Gourmet Burger Kitchen in a pre-pack administration deal that saves 35 of the chain’s 62-strong estate.

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November

Remember remember the 5 November. The whole of England is plunged back into lockdown. Encouragingly, bookings surge in the days leading up to a lockdown that feels different but is no less devastating for the sector. Chef Alain Roux reveals he will not reopen his three-Michelin starred Waterside Inn restaurant in Bray until the new year due to the uncertainty of when England’s lockdown restrictions will be lifted.

Towards the end of the month, as the industry prepares to re-open for eat-in, it is announced that restaurants and pubs in Tier 3 areas will be restricted to takeaway and delivery only. Industry representatives call the move a lockdown in all but name for hospitality and warn that 70% of businesses could become unviable and close in 2021 as a result of the pandemic.

Cyrus Todiwala’s Cafe Spice Namaste closes after 25 years. Asma Khan opens a much larger Darjeeling Express, in Covent Garden.

News of the rollout of a vaccine in December provides some cheer, but it is short lived.

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December

After barely two weeks of trading following the lifting of England’s second lockdown, London and parts of the South East go into Tier 3 with barely any notice from Government. Chefs and restaurateurs are united in their dismay at having wasted time and money preparing for what is traditionally the industry’s busiest period. Morale hits rock bottom. A few days later, it is announced that even more of the South of England is entering Tier 3 and virtually nowhere is moving to a lower Tier. Merry Christmas.

It is also revealed that hospitality job losses have hit 650,000 since January. December sees a string of high profile closures, including David Muñoz’s Mayfair restaurant StreetXO, Simon Rogan’s Roganic in Marylebone and Roux at Parliament Square.

A petition calling on the Government to create a Minister for Hospitality smashes it target of 100,000 signatures, meaning that the proposal will be debated in parliament in January 2021.

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