For better or worse, the impact of the pandemic is having a profound effect on the commercial property market. Since the lease forfeiture moratorium was introduced last year, tenants and landlords have been trying to negotiate new lease terms that suit both parties; often unsuccessfully - a recent study carried out by commercial property restructuring specialist Cedar Dean found that 77% of hospitality operators are currently being forced to look at restructuring or insolvency options, with current rents remaining unaffordable for the vast majority of businesses. A switch to turnover rent, which links rent payments to the turnover achieved at each site, is something many operators have pursued since the moratorium was introduced as a means of limiting liability going forward. And there’s a hope that, over time, this shift could become permanent. “Property costs (rent and rates) in central London are unsustainable,” says Chris Yates, managing director at Cafe Murano. “This crisis and the impact on high streets should lead to revision of business rate structure and the commercial lease model. Fixed rents with five yearly upward only reviews should be a thing of the past. During 2020 many sensible landlords have moved to turnover rents to support tenants and this has to be the model for the future of commercial leases.” Eroshan Meewella, co-founder of Kolamba, shares this view. “Landlords need to accept that the current rental model doesn’t work,” he says. “The move to a turnover based model is the future and has been adopted my many markets around the world. I believe most landlords will move to this.”
Restaurants located in prime, city centre, high-footfall locations will have their day again, but in the short term it is time for the neighbourhood restaurant to shine. While cities and towns have been left empty by a dearth of office workers and tourists due to the pandemic, some city suburbs and neighbourhoods have thrived as people have chosen not to venture too far from their doorsteps when eating out. With the Monday to Friday office working week unlikely to return this year, this looks likely to continue for this year at least as diners learn to love their neighbourhoods and its eating spots and the benefits that come with it (the usual table madam?). “Good neighbourhood restaurants will thrive as patterns of behaviour have changed in the past year,” predicts restaurateur Rebecca Mascherenas. “More people are using their local amenities and being able to walk rather than use public transport is a big plus.” Restaurant groups that have traditionally looked to city centre locations are also expected to take the suburbs more seriously in the coming years. “If we’re to believe that home working is a more permanent change then I would expect to see more operators take a fresh look at the suburbs for new sites,” says Cafe Murano managing director Chris Yates.
Fine dining back with a bang
A few years back there was much talk about the death of fine dining - in particular those long multi-course lunches in hushed immaculate surroundings - as time-pressed diners looked for something a bit more informal, fun and quicker when choosing a restaurant. But that was before people had been stuck indoors for vast lengths of time forced to eat their own cooking on an annoyingly regular basis. The vast array of restaurant ‘makeaway’ meals has helped but while they have given people a taste of restaurant food they haven’t managed to capture that feeling of being in a restaurant and receiving the kind of warm, attentive service that the best fine dining restaurants deliver so well. “We expect to see a resurgence of special occasion dining out,” says Bob Bob Ricard owner Leonid Shutov. “Even in the most difficult circumstances life does not stop and we all have occasions, achievements and milestones worth celebrating. And after a year of home cooking and DIY restaurant meal kits many will be looking for the much-missed dishes that they would rarely brave at home - from beef wellington to soufflés and flambés.” Never has a three-hour lunch with wine pairings seemed so attractive.
Pop ups and new concepts
Pop ups are by no means a new concept but the uncertainty that surrounds the rest of this year, twinned with the number of locations that will suddenly become available as a result of the pandemic, will likely see chefs and restaurateurs looking to do short-term projects that provide some fun as well as vital cash. “As things won’t go back to how they were for some time, if at all, we think there will be a lot of pop ups and some of these may even remain permanent as they’ve worked so well,” say Katie and Rick Toogood, founders of restaurants Prawn on the Lawn and Barnaby’s. The duo’s Prawn on the Farm pop up is making a return this summer promising to be “bigger, better and more delicious than before”. John Devitt, co-founder of Koya, also believes that access to new types of sites will open up opportunities for businesses to get their creative juices flowing this year. “Permanent changes in law such as the abolishment of Use Class A1-A3 and B1 to make way for new Use Class E are likely to have a big impact on hospitality in 2021, giving restaurants greater flexibility to move into new sites that they wouldn’t have been able to beforehand,” he says. Opportunity-wise, I think now is the time for restaurateurs to dream up new business ideas and start hustling to make them happen. Landlords will be more willing to give tenants good deals that they wouldn’t have been able to get before.” Fresh investment could also help with this, predicts Colin Clague, executive chef at Anatolian restaurant Ruya. “Some great properties will become available and if there are investors seeing the opportunity, we will witness many new ventures rising from the ashes,” he says. “After a cull, things always start to go up.”
The changed landscape post pandemic, not least short-term changes to office hours and tourism impacting on footfall, will make the prospect of launching a restaurant in 2021 quite daunting. Well, a restaurant in the traditional sense of the word in any case. This year will be about being flexible and fleet of foot in the restaurant sector so instead, we expect to see places built to adapt easily to changing customer needs and day times, whether that be restaurant by day, takeaway by night; deli/shop by day restaurant by night; breakfast service for only the first half of the week; a restaurant earlier on in the week switching to a delivery/cookery school/bar or something else. The owners of Hammersmith restaurant Sam’s Riverside, for example, launched Sam’s Larder (pictured) around the corner from the restaurant last year and have just introduced an online shopping platform for it with a ‘click and collect’ option as well as nationwide delivery. Chantelle Nicholson, meanwhile, has already expressed a desire to open a more multi-functional version of her Covent Garden restaurant Tredwells in the future and many other restaurants have added grocery elements to their offer to tap into different customer need states brought on by the pandemic and are unlikely to move away from this once lockdown lifts