'I’ve been trying to write this piece for the past two weeks and each time I drafted it another nail in the hospitality coffin was hammered in and I had to rewrite it'

Cara Houchen

As the Editor of The Staff Canteen I'm fortunate to have close relationships with those who work in hospitality so I felt I should relay the mood in the industry as I have experienced it. 

Last month the hospitality industry was once again thrown into free fall when Boris Johnson announced a blanket curfew on restaurants, bars and pubs of 10pm. Then Nicola Sturgeon took things one step further and imposed 16 days of hospitality closures in Scotland and banned the sale of alcohol indoors. Sadly, our government is set to follow suit.

I’ve been trying to write this piece for the past two weeks and each time I drafted it another nail in the hospitality coffin was hammered in and I had to rewrite it.

Today we are off again with a complete U-turn on infection rate in hospitality venues – we’ve gone from being responsible for 5% of infections in the final week of August to now Business minister Nadhim Zahawi saying evidence presented to MPs by England’s chief medical officer showed 30% of coronavirus infections are coming through hospitality.

Is this simply justification for the impending closure of pubs, bars and restaurants in the North or did someone simply not do their job properly in the first place? I speak to chefs and restaurant owners every day and the strain and anxiety is evident and the sad thing is I have no words to offer any hope or comfort. When will it end?

This challenge offers no deadline, no end date, no expiry – we are literally dealing with a daily rollercoaster. As one chef in Glasgow told me this week ‘everyone has a breaking point’ so how much more can this billion-pound industry take before it is irreparable?

Talking to chefs over the past few months the overriding response was that since lockdown they had actually been busier than ever and were taking more money per head than they had previously. They cautiously yet excitedly felt ‘the industry was getting back on its feet’ but since the new measures have come in, which are expected to be in place for the next six months, there has been an overwhelming feeling of ‘how can we survive?’.

And now with the three-tier traffic light system looming and SAGE experts calling for a UK-wide circuit breaker lockdown the result could well be carnage for those in hospitality and also those businesses which rely on them to be open and prosperous.

‘I lost a few restaurants in this shit storm, so I adapted my business model’, wrote Adam Handling on Instagram and he finished his post by writing ‘I’m not ashamed to say that I’m worried’. He is one of many looking for an outlet for their understandable frustration, a frustration myself and the team at The Staff Canteen share and sympathise with.

This may seem like a selfish view and I would expect people to point out that restrictions are in place to stop the spread and limit the death rate. However, I am seriously concerned that more deaths may start to occur as people’s livelihoods are destroyed and they hit rock bottom.

‘People are having a terrible time and you can’t do anything because we’re under this cloud of uncertainty and worry the whole time’, said Graham Garrett as part of our recent podcast interview. He rightly pointed out you have to ‘stay positive to get through but if you’re a realist it’s difficult and depressing’.

The industry feels like they are being hung out to dry, why were they not consulted ahead of the restrictions on the impact this would have? Why are they using a blanket approach when a restaurant is a completely different environment to a pub or a bar?

It’s ‘short sighted’ to say the least and the current curfew ‘is the worst thing to happen so far’ and although this resilient industry will continue to adapt – this is not an option for everyone.

The Staff Canteen is backing the #CANCELTHECURFEW campaign with the hope one strong voice can hopefully shout the loudest and be heard.

"They might not necessarily let people return to their old licensing hours," hospitality consultant and founder of Hospitality Gin Tom Ford told The Staff Canteen, "but they're going to have to change it in some way or another because of the amount of damage it's doing," citing Greene King's announcement that it would be closing dozens of its venues nationwide due to the effects of the pandemic.

That said from next week hospitality in the North of England may well be closed so the curfew will be the least of their worries.

Talking to Liam and Ellis Barrie two weeks into their new venture, Lerpwl, and they were clearly buzzing to be back in service, back with customers and back doing what they love. Sadly, The Marram Grass has been shelved as it can’t operate under the restrictions, but this was a really positive interview - the first in a long time. Next week if rumours are correct, they’ll be closed along with every other restaurant in Liverpool.

They and every business owner in our sector are screaming ‘no one can survive another lockdown’.

This is not an attack on the government, I personally don’t believe circumstances would be any different if anyone else was in charge, but it is a cry for help, and it is coming from a thick-skinned industry renowned for being tough.

Today Rishi Sunak will announce a local furlough scheme in which the government will subsidise two thirds of the wages of workers in pubs, restaurants and other businesses that are forced to close – but is it enough?

I don’t want to read about anymore closures of amazing hospitality venues or talk to people in the industry close to tears. Please don’t push us over the edge Boris - we are at breaking point and with Christmas pretty much cancelled if these measures stay in place, 2021 is like looking into the abyss.

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Cara Houchen

Cara Houchen

Editor 9th October 2020

'I’ve been trying to write this piece for the past two weeks and each time I drafted it another nail in the hospitality coffin was hammered in and I had to rewrite it'