"I can see exactly what's going to happen, we're not going to be open in January either'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

After eight months of hardship, thousands of hospitality businesses in England received another blow today, as the government announced which councils would be in which tier under the new system starting on the 2nd December.

For chef Andrew Sheridan, whose restaurant, 8, had just three weeks to welcome guests between its launch and the latest lockdown, it is out of the question that being placed in Tier 3 will beat his business down. 

Having spent the first lockdown building resilience into his new venture's layout and business model, the site now features pods, a restaurant area as well as the chef's table. 

While it was open, the chef said, "It's been brilliant, it's going really well, but it obviously ground to a halt when they've said we can't open again." 

However, he said: "I'm not going to sit here dwelling and getting pissed off about it because that's not good for anybody, is it." 

Instead, his team will continue to focus on recipe development and he and his business partner will think of ways to come back bigger and better as soon as they can next year.

"We won't stand still, I've got people here doing video work, we've got people working on the outside and we're just going to improve our product for when we do reopen." 

"The worst thing for me to do is just to go home sit there and dwell on all this shit that's going on, I can't do that." 

Because it is inside Craft Dining Rooms, meaning it is free of overheads and rent - this puts them them in a rare position, which was very much a conscious decision made with co-owner Sam Morgan. 

"The idea was to open another restaurant together and find another site, and then we thought: 'we've got loads of space here, let's make a restaurant in a restaurant." 

A tough pill to swallow 

John Robinson, chef patron at Whites in Beverley, East Yorkshire is equally stoic in tone. 

"You have to keep a perspective on it that we're doing it for the greater good," he said. 

Having expected that the restaurant would be placed in the highest tier, he added: "the rates around here are quite high. East Riding has been one of the worst for the past few weeks, so it was inevitable we'd be put in that tier." 

But the fact that hospitality is the only sector to be under tight restrictions in the highest tier feels somewhat unfair, with gatherings of up to 15 people allowed for wedding ceremonies, non-essential retail, gyms and personal care venues allowed to reopen. 

"It's hard, because we've got to remember that tens of thousands of people are dying and lots of people are ill and as an industry we don't want to contribute to that but it does feel like we're being singled out slightly - especially when you look at the statistics of how much it's actually spreading, it doesn't seem as rife in the hospitality industry as it does in other venues."

"It doesn't feel like a level playing field, does it." 

Andrew agreed, and added: "It's just bollocks, isn't it, it's absolute bollocks, I can go around dirty Primark with everyone touching the clothes and everyone coughing on each other, but I can't come out and have a meal in a controlled environment like a restaurant where we've got two metres between everyone and sanitiser everywhere. It just makes no sense." 

For Stosie Madi, chef and owner of The Parker's Arms, "there is nothing to show that hospitality is responsible for this in any way. We opened our doors on the 4th July with the most stringent Covid measures."

One among thousands of restaurants and pubs across the UK, she said: "We have not had one incident. Not one contact from track and trace. Not one member of staff, not one guest affected, no-one." 

What's more, the sentiment of injustice is amplified by the fact that big areas were, so to speak, lumped into the same bag of restrictions. 

"I think more research should've gone into this," she said. 

"We're twenty minutes away from Lancaster, and they're almost the lowest in the country - and they're also tier 3 because the whole of Lancashire's been put in the same boat." 

The logic of the tier system is easy to call into question given the government's decision to allow people across the UK to mix households, with the implication that tough restrictions could continue well into January if not later. 

Andrew said: "I can see exactly what's going to happen, we're not going to be open in January either." 

"Christmas is going to happen, the R rate is going to go up because people are meeting each other and you're allowed to go to the shops and allowed to do everything else, January's going to come and we're going to have to lock everything down again to make it go down. I can't see our restaurant being open until February, maybe March." 

Impossible to plan

Unable to plan ahead either, John said, "there isn't that much you can do. You've got down to zero income and you've still got the bills to pay." 

A good support package, he said, would "soften the blow" explaining that the first offered them security and viability.

"It all felt as though there was support there," he said.  

"This lockdown, we're getting £500 a week. What's £500 a week when you've got bills to pay? It doesn't cover your outgoings by a long way." 

"For a lot of places, it won't even touch the sides."  

Stosie agreed, and said: "Everytime you close the business, it's a loss. Then you've got to open the business, then you close it again, it's another loss. We are an independent small business, we don't have huge investors to pick anything up. 

"When a lot of go down, that's going to be even worse for the country, because England is made up of small businesses and they're just shooting at us from all sides." 

Unable to plan for a potential reopening on 16th December, she said, "we're back to the same point that we were at in July." 

Mass testing

As for the mass testing programme such as the one carried out in Liverpool, which is entering into Tier 2, John is hopeful.

"It's certainly a start, anything that can help. We've got to get out of this situation somehow." 

Stosie is less favourable. 

"I feel like that's a pat on the back and I'm not sure if it's smoke and mirrors," she said, also questioning whether public engagement would be sufficient to make it work. 

Though a mass testing centre has been set up in local Clitheroe, she said: "People don't go, because they don't want to be aligned with anything the government is doing. They just don't trust the government - and do you blame them?"

The chef patron is dubious of the government's foresight, questioning the strategy adopted after the first lockdown in order to 'save Christmas.' 

"Who cares about saving Christmas? Let's save the economy, and let's do that by making calculated decisions on what should've been done." 

Had they wanted to do this, she added, "[the Prime Minister] should have closed everything in September, October and November, remunerated people and let us just open on a clean slate. But he didn't."

One day, maybe 

Wishing she could offer a more reassuring outlook, gripping on for dear life is the only thing some businesses can do, Stosie said.

"Of course we'll fight on, but will we make it? I hope so."

"We're going to have to do whatever it takes to survive and just hope we make it." 

Determined to reopen with a bang, Andrew said: "The doors won't close here."

"That's not the case for everybody, which is really, really s**t.

"But I haven't spent the last 14 years working my arse off to open a restaurant for three weeks and then close. I won't do it. I'll do everything I can to stay open. And we will stay open." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 26th November 2020

"I can see exactly what's going to happen, we're not going to be open in January either'