Craig Millar: the government 'let us down' by ordering us to close at the same time as London restaurants

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 25th March 2020

In these times of turmoil, many chefs have found it hard to know what the right course of action is. 

While internationally the executive has been called slow to react in the face of the crisis, over the course of a fortnight, almost everything British citizens took for granted - like being able to go to work and spending time with friends and family - has been turned on its head. 

Unlike many modern commercial entities, restaurants are unable to exist in a time when it is not only inadvisable but illegal for people to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary. 

Should virus mitigation measures have been implemented around the country at the same time?

Footfall in restaurants across the country went into free fall a fortnight ago, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised that people avoid social contact by staying away from bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.  

"It was an absolute nightmare," explained chef Craig Millar, "because they weren't telling us to shut then, so everybody started a semi-decent week, and then everybody starting calling and cancelling and it went to s**t." 

But far from the epicentre of the crisis, the chef's restaurant at 16 West End in Fife, should, in his opinion, have been left to stay open for longer.

Though he stressed that the welfare of both his team is of upmost importance to him, he believes the decision to enforce closures should have been devolved to local authorities, letting areas at less risk continue to put much needed money in the bank before they inevitably had to follow suit.

"London and Fife are worlds apart. We seem to be in a world of our own here. When something happens down in London, there's a knock-on effect about three or four months later."

"It seemed like a knee-jerk reaction - for up here anyway." 

"We felt a wee bit let down - I don't know how they would've done it, but we would've been in a better position now going into a lockdown if we had a bit more money in the bank." 

"It may be a selfish way of doing it, but realistically, I was surprised by how many people cancelled." 

Although the assurance that staff would be taken care of gave the chef some peace of mind, being self employed, Craig said he's "still in a bit of a pickle at the minute," as the government's proposed allowance would give him just £95 a week.   

"There's absolutely nothing we can do about it, we haven't got any money tucked away." 

While government grants have been announced, for the time being the chef and his team are playing a waiting game. "They've said you can start applying from 23rd March but there's nothing there that I can see at the moment." 

"We're just kind of in limbo at the minute." 

The chef has been lucky enough that his landlord has given him a three month rent holiday, which he called "a big weight off my shoulders."

"Last year we had a fantastic year business-wise and this year - in the last month or so, we were looking to match it, if not better - so that's disappointing in that sense.

"But when you get such a good team, you want to keep hold of them, so hopefully we'll manage to do that."

'London is a totally different beast to the rest of the country'

From gift vouchers and promises that customers will be "first in the queue" when the restaurant reopens, the chef said he was glad for the support.

"Any income coming in now is a bonus for us." 

Looking to the future, the chef thinks customers will come flocking back to restaurants as soon as restrictions on movement and social interactions are lifted.

"I suspect, being at home and getting paid, people will have a lot of loose cash to spend, and a lot of pent up energy."

But once again, he said: "I think we should be able to do it differently in different parts of the country - obviously London is a totally different beast to the rest of the country so maybe the rules should be more relaxed outside of London." 

In the meantime, the chef, like many others across the country, will be baking bread, homeschooling his children and basking in the springtime sun (within the confines of his garden).

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 25th March 2020

Craig Millar: the government 'let us down' by ordering us to close at the same time as London restaurants