Danny Parker, James Allcock: 'At least I've got some semblance of, well, if I can limp to Christmas eve, that's great'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor


As the coronavirus situation changes faster than we news outlets can keep up with, Danny Parker, executive chef at Jesmond Dene House isn't seeing panic trickling through to bookings. 

"I checked this morning and in the last three days we've picked up seventy afternoon teas for the month and I think we've lost in total three dinners," accounting for cancellations and new bookings, he said.

And while large bookings have pulled out, as firms have decided to look out for their employees, "the weddings are absolutely fine, they're still carrying on and going ahead with everything." 

"I was really pleasantly surprised when I looked this morning at how many reservations we've picked up in three days - especially seeing as included in it was Boris' announcement [on Sunday]."

At the hotel, he said, "everyone's already socially distanced, the restaurant is massive."

"The tables are miles away from each other." 

Filling to capacity "hasn't been an issue throughout," he said, "and some of the smaller venues - I think it's different for them and I think guests going there might find it different."

"Touchwood, so far we're quite fortunate." 

Even in the hotel rooms, he said, "we are seeing cancellations but we are seeing bookings as well to replace them - so at the minute, swings and roundabouts for us."

Braced for a tough January 

As the prospect of new restrictions in January looms, he said, "it's tough - everyone knows that the hospitality industry is really quiet in January, so we want to get through these 15-22 days," after which operating with more rules in place would be manageable. 

"But they can't bring in more restrictions in without more support," he said - an outcome which it is understood the Treasury is already planning for.

"I think the government knows that and I think most people would expect that now," he said. 

The idea that it is part of the economic plan to allow businesses to operate over Christmas to brace them for a lockdown in January does seem plausible, especially given the current 'Plan B' guidance. 

"It does seem incredibly bizarre how you should work from home but you should have a staff party - those were the Prime Minister's words," he laughed. 

Referring to the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, he said, "I think there is something more coming and I think that they're hoping as much as the hospitality industry that it's in January that it comes." 

All of the above having been said, as a chef and an employee, Danny is less involved with the wider business implications of potential restrictions than others.

"I imagine this is a very different time for owners and chef owners," he said.

'If I can limp to Christmas eve, that's great'

And indeed, there are parallels to be drawn between his and that of James Allcock, chef owner of The Pig and Whistle in Beverley - in that for every cancellation that has come in, he has managed to recoup custom - James' exhaustion at the prospect of more restrictions is clear. 

"I've just got off the phone to a cancellation of five, and another of 14. It feels very March 2020," he said.

"Don't get me wrong, we keep filling up, but it's just not very nice, is it. It's hard enough running a business. 

While the chef had already decided to stay closed until January 7th to give his team a well-deserved rest, he is half-expecting not to reopen until some weeks later. 

"I'm just glad that I've not made a bunch of New Year's plans and I'm taking cancellations and refunding deposits and tickets. At least I've got some semblance of, 'well, if I can limp to Christmas eve, that's great'."

Clear messaging, clear regulation

Despite having accrued more debt than he could possibly have envisaged when he set up his business, the chef knows he could pull through another lockdown.

With his bar set up as a permanent deli, he said, "it's a small help. It's not a business, but it's some cash. It was really well supported last time and it has its own clients now so I've no reason to think that would be any different, but it's not a barrel of laughs is it." 

"I feel like I'll probably be alright, as long as they give furlough and secure the team," although some of his newer team members likely wouldn't be entitled to it, "but I'll open the deli and do takeaway with the new members and I think we'll be alright - it's just emotionally horrible to do this over and over again - to try and start up and do this over and over again."

"My main worry is the industry as a whole - there will be some operators that aren't alright and that is just not fair." 

His fate and that of thousands of others rests in the hands of government, and how they handle the next few weeks.

"If it gets to the point where I'm literally stood there like the band on the Titanic without closing I'll be really p****d off because it is so unfair having done that once to us - strangled the messaging, strangled the regulation to the point where no-one wants to go out.

"If they do that again I'll be absolutely furious because they should shut us immediately, never mind for safety, but for morality, as a person. 

"To leave an industry sat there, soldiering on to no-one, again - I'll be really furious."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 14th December 2021

Danny Parker, James Allcock: 'At least I've got some semblance of, well, if I can limp to Christmas eve, that's great'