For Raymond Blanc, the distinguished chef and restaurateur, the end of lockdown had better bring good news. ‘We make about 25 per cent of our profit around Christmas,’ he said. ‘No Christmas, big trouble.’
He speaks for the entire British hospitality business. Because unless pubs, hotels and restaurants are allowed to reopen straight away and with a minimum of restrictions, they face ruin.
In normal times, they would be gearing up for the busiest month of the year as we eat, drink and make very merry indeed.
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Today, things are different. As England crawls, blinking, out of lockdown on December 2, it will be greeted by an industry on its knees, teetering on the edge of the most vicious precipice. Even now the Government has failed to say what exactly is going to happen. Pub and restaurant owners will have to wait until Thursday to find out which new ‘tier’ they will be in, and how they will be allowed to trade. It might not be enough.
I’ve spoken to dozens of chefs, restaurateurs, suppliers and hotel owners. And they all agree on one thing: it is essential they throw open their doors. And urgently.
It’s not as if hospitality is a hotbed of infection. Far from it. The latest data from Public Health England states a mere one per cent of positive tests have come from people visiting restaurants, and only 1.6 per cent from pubs and bars.
There’s widespread frustration that Boris Johnson and his scientific advisers are paying no attention to the facts, to the hard work of owners and managers – or to the piles of hard cash they’ve already paid to make their premises Covid-secure.
The industry has gone above and beyond, spending thousands in every venue across the country on protective equipment, new signs, new health and safety systems and much else besides.
Des Gunewardena, of D&D London, owner of more than 42 restaurants and bars across the country, says he’s had zero calls from NHS track and trace since they reopened. And that’s despite serving almost 700,000 customers.
So will the Government persist with its ill-thought-of Rule of Six (banning gatherings of more than six) when December comes? Why six? Why not eight or ten? What is the justification for this exact number?
Then there’s the Byzantine tier system. Three more tiers will be announced this week, but there’s widespread confusion about these seemingly arbitrary, knee-jerk reaction restrictions. Who exactly will be allowed to book a table when restaurants reopen?
The Government needs to be more transparent than an Escoffier consommé clear soup. And now.
The continued policy of scapegoating hospitality has no basis in science, safety or common sense. Restaurants and pubs – when the rules are followed – are among the very safest places for people to socialise. They are licensed venues with trained staff, experts in food hygiene and customer safety. Keeping pubs and restaurants closed could have the opposite effect of the one intended, in fact. Socialising will still happen, but without the regulations. Common sense goes out of the window after a few drinks.
For Raymond Blanc, (pictured) the distinguished chef and restaurateur, the end of lockdown had better bring good news
The effects of this disastrous shutdown go way beyond the staff and customers. It’s no exaggeration to say that hospitality is vital to the UK economy. At the start of this year, the trade had an annual revenue of £130 billion, employed 3.2 million people and was forecasting yearly growth of 5 per cent. Hospitality was generating one in every six new jobs. Since then, the workforce has been cut by a fifth and the rate of growth has almost halved – and that was before the latest month-long lockdown.