Friday Five: the week's top news

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Friday Five: the week's top news

Related tags: Coronavirus

This week's main hospitality news stories include HMRC clearing TiPJAR for use; plans to extend the lease forfeiture moratorium; and Alyn Williams winning his unfair dismissal case against The Westbury.

- TiPJAR has been cleared by HMRC​ in what the cashless tipping solution is hailing as a breakthrough that could change the way tips and gratuities are handled. Through the platform, any tip paid by a customer digitally – either by card or smartphone – is equivalent to cash and is wholly owned by the staff themselves, by-passing the business and, therefore, the need to operate a tronc system. Getting the green light, TiPJAR says, makes it the only system of its kind in the UK through which staff can collect and pool digital tips. TiPJAR says that as long as an operator hands over full control of tip management to the staff via the TiPJAR platform, they cannot be held responsible for tax or National Insurance contributions on the tips collected and can move away from operating tronc systems in their business.

- Ministers are drawing up plans to extend the lease forfeiture moratorium​ beyond the end of March. It is understood both the business department and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) have been talking to the property, retail and hospitality sectors over how best to extend the moratorium, which prevents landlords from repossessing commercial premises if businesses are unable to pay their rent as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. By the end of March, when the moratorium is currently due to expire, close to £3bn in unsettled rent will have accumulated within hospitality as a result of the Covid crisis. According to trade body UKHospitality, 40% of businesses within the sector have not received any rent concessions from landlords. To try and defuse this time bomb, the Government may also introduce guidance on how landlords and their tenants should determine how bills are split.

- Chef Alyn Williams has won an unfair dismissal case against The Westbury Hotel in London's Mayfair​. Williams was sacked as chef-patron at his eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant in The Westbury back in October 2019 without any notice period or payment for his notice period, after he entertained friends on a Sunday lunchtime when the restaurant was closed. Late last year an employment tribunal heard that Williams, who opened the restaurant in 2011, was suspended by his bosses at the hotel for gross misconduct and eventually fired. However, the chef was ruled to have been dismissed unfairly by the hotel's owners because he had previously been allowed to hold private parties at the restaurant, and had done so on numerous occasions. Each time Williams brought in his own food and drink, and just used the restaurant as a venue, the tribunal heard.

- Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested the use of rapid testing could be the key to reopening the night-time economy​. Speaking at a Downing Street news conference earlier this week, Boris Johnson said lateral flow tests could be used by those parts of the economy the Government couldn't get open last year. "That, in combination with vaccination, will probably be the route forward," he said. However, the Prime Minister continued to stress that it is 'still early days' and there are lots of discussions still to be had. Nightclubs have been shut ever since Coronavirus restrictions were first introduced in the UK last March.

- A new report on the safe restart of hospitality argues that businesses in the sector should be prioritised for reopening as they are not significant areas for Covid transmission​. The study, commissioned by trade body UKHospitality from analysts CGA, contends that hospitality should be central to reopening plans in 2021 as it remains 'a safe and well-regulated environment for customers to visit'. Tackling long-standing arguments that the July reopening of hospitality and the Eat Out To Help Out scheme were responsible for a rapid rise in cases in 2020, the report references Public Health Directors and Public Health England's ‘Weekly Surveillance’ reports, both of which confirm that hospitality was linked to a low number of cases and is not a leading environment of transmission. The data shows what has long been argued by the industry that cases remained low throughout July and August, suggesting it's highly likely the rapid rise in cases from early to mid-September was instead driven by the reopening of schools.

Check below for more of this week's headlines, or click here​.

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