London’s chefs and restaurateurs reacted with fury and confusion today over the government’s plans to replace lockdown with a new three tier system.
As shop owners and even sports stadiums prepare to start welcoming guests again, those working in hospitality say the industry has been hung out to dry, with some fearing a wave of closures.
M Restaurant owner Martin Williams said the news could be “the final nail in the coffin” for many hospitality businesses, while Santo Remedio co-founder Natalie Feary described Tier 3 as “glorified lockdown”.
Under the new guidelines, pubs and restaurants will be allowed to welcome mixed-household groups of up to six in Tier 1. In Tier 2 only groups from household bubbles will be allowed to meet and they will have to order a “substantial meal” to be served alcohol. In the strictest Tier 3 bars and restaurants can only serve takeaway food and drink.
The only positive news for the sector was giving customers an hour to drink up between last orders at 10pm and kicking out time at 11pm.
Even in Tier 1 people are being urged to work from home where possible, starving many central restaurants of customers.
We spoke to more than a dozen restaurant owners, with some saying the future of London’s restaurants could depend on the tier in which it is placed.
“This all completely depends on what tier we are in when we come out of lockdown,” says Chris Leach, chef and co-founder of Manteca. “Three weeks of trading before Christmas hopefully gives businesses the chance to convert that into some welcome revenue. The curfew being moved to 11pm will make a massive difference and is definitely a welcomed alteration.”
There was also confusion over the government’s overlapping guidelines, with some chefs questioning whether customers would know when to apply the “rule of six” and when to stay within household bubbles.
Stuart Procter, COO of The Stafford Collection, said he was “dismayed” by the new system: “You can now go out shopping on Oxford Street… You can go to a sporting event with up to 4,000 people… And yet you are only allowed a table of six in a restaurant. There is zero logic being applied here.”
More than anything, though, restaurateurs expressed a sense of injustice. Adam White, founder of Riding House Cafe and Rail House Cafe, said “public confidence in restaurants has been unjustly knocked… The industry seems to always be the target… even though it is one of the lowest contributors to the spread of the virus.”
He added that “the government sadly doesn’t seem to hold the hospitality industry in high regard… The outcome of this is that there may be even more empty buildings throughout the capital.”
Santo Remedio co-founder Feary said: “Restaurants are incredibly safe. This is because we are so well-versed when it comes to health and safety, so it is difficult to understand the logic as to why we are one of the few industries being so restricted. At restaurants we have a safe distance between tables, we have staff wearing masks, there is constant sanitising, and we are a safe environment for people to meet in. This has been shown with transmissions being extremely low at less than three per cent.”
Mohammad Paknejad, cofounder of Nutshell Covent Garden, agreed, saying that “yet again, the biggest casualty of the new regulations seems to be hospitality. This is the 5th time the government has imposed new restrictions on us since the 4 July re-opening.”
There will now be a nail-biting few days until the government announces on Thursday which tier London will fall within.