London restaurateurs lament entering tier three – hospitality has been disproportionately targeted AGAIN

An interview with Des Gunewardena of D&D London

London, and now much of the South East, has been placed into tier three, which means pubs and restaurants must close.

Of course everything else is allowed to remain open. Primark, for example, where shoppers scamper for low quality goods. Hairdressers. Beauty salons.

Nobody in hospitality is suggesting retail outlets should close too – rather, it seems the food and drink industry has been disproportionately targeted, not least because the Government has held firm on its policy to allow up to three households to gather over Christmas.

Grants of up to £3,000 to businesses in tier three are not adequate. Loans with low interest rates are unsustainable. Furlough is welcome but means workers on already low wages, relatively, are on even less over the Christmas season.

It is little wonder restaurateurs and publicans lament the government and the decisions made in Westminster. Here, we provide them a platform to vent.

Des Gunewardena, CEO and cofounder of D&D London:
In the context of the complete lack of evidence that there are significant Covid infections happening in restaurants, to close restaurants and cancel bookings in what is normally THE busiest week of the year feels like an almost gratuitous kick in the teeth to London restaurants. The government is treating the hospitality industry as its Covid whipping boy it should at least step up and fully compensate us as for example the French and German governments are doing.

Stuart Procter, COO The Stafford Collection:
We all know this year has been a mess for hospitality but this constant, open close open close is exhausting. It takes so much time, energy, and work to get our restaurants, bars and hotels trading again so to be threatened with another closure mere weeks after reopening is crushing. The only glimmer of hope for 2020 was a bit of Christmas trading in London so for that to be removed is like the rug being pulled from under your feet again. We had festive dishes and drinks ready to be served by staff who are desperate to be at work – it’s cruel.

Cokey Sulkin, Co-founder of Dirty Bones:
You can’t put a price on people’s lives but moving London into tier 3 is a hammer blow to all hospitality businesses in London. We have all been working incredibly hard, doing what we can to focus on a productive and profitable December. Putting London into tier 3 is essentially a third lockdown; each time this happens we are talking about significant losses, as well as more valuable time eaten up dealing with suppliers and landlords for further concessions, when we should be looking forward – putting our post C-19 business plans into motion’.

Marcos Fernandez, MD Arros QD & Iberica:
Christmas was the only chance for those restaurants that have managed survived to make the cash to get them through the rest of winter. We have, after a massive amount of work, to make it to the other side of the tunnel which we can’t now even see until Boris speaks again. And they still talk hard Brexit?!

Sergey Men, Chef Patron of Bisushima, new opening in Covent Garden:
Going back into lockdown again is very scary – we’ve barely had time to come out and recover again! We managed to establish a solid delivery service throughout November so we would have something to fall back on, however we cannot keep operating with this in and out approach. It’s not fair on us, our staff or our customers.

Luca Costa, General Manager of Terra Terra:
We at Terra Terra appreciate the seriousness of the situation. We understand that the authorities have the responsibility to introduce the right measures to protect people against the risk of the Covid-19 infection. Yet, we believe without hesitation that hospitality businesses should continue operating during this phase of the pandemic, providing they adhere to the Government health and safety guidelines. While social distancing and the venue capacity are respected, and thorough cleaning/disinfecting routine are carried out, the chances of in loco contamination are minimal. Moreover, the impact of a new closure of restaurants, pubs, bars, etc., prior to Christmas, the busiest time of the year for hospitality, will be immeasurable, forcing us to an unrecoverable position. When these companies go out of business, along with them go their employees’ ability to support themselves and their families. Things get worse when you add the Brexit’s uncertainty is added to the equation.

Andreas Labridis, co-owner of Marylebone restaurant OPSO on London in Tier 3:
London entering Tier 3 is devastating for the hospitality industry. December, and the week running up to Christmas in particular, is one of the most crucial periods of the year. Many restaurants rely on a very busy December, ahead of the quietest months of the year which are January and February. At OPSO, we worked hard during the second lockdown to offer even more confidence to diners to eat out. We invested in our outdoor terrace, purchasing additional heaters and dividers so that we can accommodate the increasing number of guests requesting to eat outside. A third lockdown in December will be a major blow for the financial stability of our restaurants and staff as well as to our many customers that have been looking forward to some festive days to end this challenging year.  
It seems to me we are heading towards the perfect storm for hospitality – this includes closing our restaurants and losing out on the much anticipated Christmas trade, the unknown full impact Brexit will have on future product prices and supply chain and finally, the challenges our industry will be up against, once free movement of workers comes to an end on January 1st – a tough few months ahead. 

Rik Campbell, co-founder of Kricket
Tier 3 is a lockdown in disguise, punishing hospitality more than any other industry. Christmas and New Year were already looking bleak, and now we’re staring down the barrel. It’s incredibly worrying for our business, but it’s more worrying for our staff who are already scrambling for hours after the November lockdown. The only thing that will see businesses through this is cash support, in the form of grants and tax relief, as well as having a good relationship with landlords. The government has come up with c.£300 billion so far, so fingers crossed their money trees are still blooming.

Patrick Powell, Allegra
The government now needs to follow France and Germany’s example and provide more support for business owners. The schemes in these countries are far more beneficial to employees and companies alike. Emmanuel Macron has actually met with unions and hospitality business owners throughout the pandemic, I feel that the restaurants in the UK are not being consulted at all. The government’s handling of the hospitality sector has been a disgrace and shows a complete lack of understanding on their part.

David Moore, Pied à Terre:
It feels like Armageddon, I just feel like crying Once again the government is acting without any rhyme nor reason, no science to back up the decisions they’re making and hospitality once again bearing the brunt of this pandemic. To close with no notice at the most crucial time of year for us is devastating – we’ve lost any chance of making up some of the losses this year over the festive period and £000s of worth of food and drink will go to waste as fridges full of food are emptied. We desperately need more support for our sector, without it there is a very slender chance of survival for any of us independents. We need to be given a fighting chance for survival when we reopen – this doesn’t mean more debt as we simply can’t shoulder any more of this. We need grants, we need business rates sorted out, we need a deregularised industry that isn’t burdened with licensing laws and other legislation. Most of all we need a true representative in the decision making process. We need a hospitality minister, someone up front that knows what we’re going through and can sit at the table and talk on our behalf.

Tom Warren, Wild by Tart:
Tier 3 lockdown in London is alarming. The amount of food going to waste as a result of the lack of warning we’ve had is devastating. The government’s handling of the pandemic in relation to our industry has been completely irrational and lacking in any intelligent or informed thought. The levels of government support have been laughable, particularly given that many restaurants have a high level of fixed costs – the £3k in grants that the government promises to give to businesses in Tier 3 regions does not go a long way at all when you’re paying central London rents. Furlough has undoubtedly saved jobs but I worry for our staff who have had to take significant pay cuts for most of the year. Schemes like Eat Out to Help Out and the business rates holidays were welcome but business rates are definitely in need of a long term review. I’d also recommend the government extending SEIS/EIS schemes for private investors in order to encourage investment into the sector.

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