Monday 14 December 2020 2:52 pm

'I just feel like crying' – chefs react to 'cruel' Tier 3 restrictions

London restaurateurs and chefs reacted with frustration and despair at the “cruel” news London will enter Tier 3, a period of virtual lockdown that will see bars and restaurants closed until the new year.

Unlike the first lockdown, Tier 3 allows non-essential shops to remain open, adding to criticism from the hospitality sector that it has unfairly shouldered the burden of coronavirus restrictions.

Restaurants were already struggling with restrictions that essentially banned the lucrative office party trade that makes up a significant percentage of many operators’ annual incomes.

Here’s how some of London’s top chefs and restaurateurs reacted in the aftermath of the news.

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. If the government does want to treat the hospitality industry as its Covid whipping boy it should at least step up and fully compensate us as French and German governments are doing.

Greg Marchand, chef patron of Frenchie: “Not being able to open for the festive month will be a real kick in the teeth – it’s a crucial few weeks business-wise and sees us through financially. But, we fight on for the sake of our staff, our customers and our city.”

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 potentially removed is like the rug being pulled from under [our] feet again. We’ve got festive dishes and drinks ready to be served by staff who are desperate to be at work – it’s cruel. I guess we wait and see what happens once again, I’m getting whiplash from these twists and turns every couple of weeks.”

Eran Tibi, head chef and co-founder of Bala Baya: “The Government never considers the cost of reopening. Closing is easy but reopening is expensive – we have to clean, restrock, plan, and there is no compensation for this. We continue to struggle financially. I feel so sorry for my team – we see our staff struggling to pay rent and the announcement of Tier 3 makes things that much worse.How many times can we be beaten down and then be asked to rise up again and reopen?

“If we need everything to close, then close everything. I am tired of this ‘soft’ lockdown tiering system, continually opening and closing businesses. It clearly is not working. Enforce a serious lockdown if that is what is necessary.

“In Israel, people are fined for leaving the house without a reason, in France you have to fill out a form. The Government should take control of the virus. Closing hospitality venues but keeping shops open makes no sense.”

Cokey Sulkin, co-founder of Dirty Bones: “‘You can’t put a price on people’s lives but moving London into Tier 3 will be a hammer-blow to 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 and putting our post Covid business plans into motion.”

Marcos Fernandez, MD Arros QD & Iberica: “Christmas is the only chance for those restaurants that have managed to survive to make the cash to get them through the rest of winter. After a massive amount of work, we thought we had made it to the other side of the tunnel – now we can’t even see the other side.”

Sergey Men, Chef Patron of Bisushima, a new opening in Covent Garden: “The thought of going back into lockdown is very scary, we’ve barely had time to recover from last time. 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 believe without hesitation that hospitality businesses should continue operating during this phase of the pandemic, providing they adhere to the government’s health and safety guidelines. While social distancing and the venue capacity are respected, and thorough cleaning and disinfecting routines are carried out, the chances of contamination are minimal.

“Moreover, the impact of a new closure during the busiest time of the year for hospitality will be immeasurable, forcing many into an unrecoverable position. When companies go out of business, along with them will go their employees’ ability to support themselves and their families.”

Dom Jacobs, wine director at The Fitzdares Club: “Tier 3 lockdown is a major blow to London hospitality. The cost of reopening venues is enormous for businesses and to only have 1.5 weeks of trade is devastating. Closing so suddenly will cause massive amounts of wastage and therefore further costs in what was planned to be a busy week.

For hard hit central London venues, this could well be the final straw. The government needs a major shake up in the support being offered. We need a hospitality minister who understands the business to look out for our best interests and help rebuild.” 

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 bears 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 thousands of pounds worth of food and drink will go to waste as fridges full of food are emptied.

“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 deregulated industry that isn’t burdened with licensing laws and other legislation.”

Tom Warren, Wild by Tart: “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 £3,000 in grants the government promises to give to businesses in Tier 3 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.”

Charlie Mellor, founder of Big Night and The Laughing Heart:
“This news is disappointing but by no means surprising – the writing has been on the wall for some time. I am sure I am not the only one who is frustrated by the ‘trail of breadcrumbs’ tactics from our excuse for leadership. As ever, it is culture under attack, thus the impact on the hospitality sector will be significant. The loss of vital turnover at the busiest time of the year is sure to have a knock-on effect that will see many more businesses close their doors permanently, particularly once the moratorium on rent enforcement is eased at the end of March. Without further cash grants and a review of the legislation around commercial agreements between landlords and leaseholders, we are in trouble.”

Martin Williams, CEO of Rare Restaurants: “London going into Tier 3 will sadly lead to over a hundred thousand job losses and thousands of restaurant closures. As an industry we have £1.6bn of unpaid rent, which is due on 1 April. The government needs to now intervene on a solution to this massive rent debt to avoid even worse damage to our sector.”

Jonathan Read, co-founder and commercial director of Skylight and Tobacco Dock: “Putting London into Tier 3 is another heavy-handed reaction by the government. The data proves that hospitality settings, which have to be Covid-Safe, are not causing the spread of the virus. The latest data from the ONS shows that less than two per cent of infections are attributable. It is a soft target for the government when the scandal is the number of infections that emanate from hospitals and care homes. Schools are the other major source of infection but yet hospitality ends up as the scape-goat…yet again.

The government has absolutely zero understanding of the sunk costs that are incurred every time a bar or restaurant has to close down and then re-open. Skylight has spent thousands of pounds on COVID-secure measures, hiring and training staff, re-designing our website and marketing costs to persuade customers back. Our rent is still payable and the grants the government pays for businesses forced to close under restrictions only cover a fraction of these costs and make zero contribution to rent cost that landlords still demand.

Skylight and Tobacco Dock will survive but this will have a devastating impact on the mental health of our teams and putting London into Tier 3 will see many, many more previously successful hospitality businesses facing ruin.”

Gianluca D’Angelo, co-founder of Zia Lucia: “This news, coupled with the rumor that a full lockdown might be come into effect in January, will be potentially catastrophic for the hospitality industry. The most effective measures to help have been the grants to compensate for the loss of earning and the reduction in VAT, which should be extended. Clearly the latter assumes you have a level of trading which might not be the case.”

Statistics show that the majority of Covid transmissions occur at schools, offices and care homes, with supermarkets also contributing significantly to the total – most of these are likely to remain open as usual. Only two to five per cent of transmissions are thought to be in hospitality venues.

Last month restaurant group D&D’s owner Des Gunewardena told City A.M. that after serving more than 700,000 customers, he has not had a single Covid case linked to his restaurants by the government’s NHS Track and Trace app.