Coronavirus: 'We’ve already lost some fucking unbelievable restaurants to it, it’s sad. I think we will lose a lot more because they just can’t survive'

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th October 2020

A lockdown requiring people in Wales to stay at home and mandating the closure of all non-essential retail, leisure and hospitality businesses will begin on friday at 6pm, lasting until Monday, november 9th.

With exceptions made for critical workers and people unable to work from home and childcare facilities,  as well as gatherings for funerals and wedding ceremonies, Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford called the new measures "a time-limited fire breaker; a short, sharp shock to turn back the clock, slow down the virus and give us more time."

"This firebreak is the shortest we can make it," he added, "but that means it will have to be sharp and deep in order to have the impact we need it to have on the virus." 

What will the support be?

In a bid to reassure those whose incomes will be impacted by the lockdown, he added: "As a cabinet, we are accutely aware of the impact that a circuit-breaker period will have on businesses," explaining that a financial support package will be put at their disposition. 

This will include an economic resilience fund totalling £300 million, as well as a £1,000 payment for all businesses qualifying for relief under previous measures, and a single payment of up to £5,000 for small and medium businesses in the leisure and hospitality sectors forced to close as a result. These will paid out automically with no need to apply. 

"We know that businesses will need this support quickly," the first minister said.

"The funds will open in the first week of the firebreak and we will work to get that money allocated as quickly as we can to this businesses." 

Additionally, he said, firms will still have access to UK government funds - including the new version of the Job Retention Scheme and the Job Support Scheme.

BBC Newsnight host Lewis Goodall delivered some clarity on the support set out for hospitality with the following Tweet:

Is the support enough to see the industry through?

Reacting to the news, award-winning restaurant Heaney's Cardiff chef and owner Tommy Heaney said that although they had been expecting it, it would likely strike a massive blow on the business, which only recently reopened and already bore the brunt of the local lockdown in Cardiff. 

"We spent money on making sure people could sit outside so they would feel more comfortable and now we're being hit with another lockdown, it's really tough," he said.

As for what help they'll get from the government, he said: "I don't know the ins and outs of it, I don't know what the support packages are at the moment." 

With more details promised later this week, he added: "At the minute it's a bit foggy."

The aforementioned £1,000 payment, he said, "is nothing when you've got 15 members of staff," and even if they were to receive the £5,000 promised to some businesses, this wouldn't be enough to cover costs for a two-week period. 

His biggest fears are for his team, most of which only joined when Heaney's reopened in August, and who may not qualify for any of the UK government's job support packages.

Even if they do qualify for the Job Support Scheme, which requires businesses to pay 55% of a team member's salary and tops up an additional 22%, he said: "How are we supposed to do that when we've got nothing coming in?"

"What do we do with these guys? Are we supposed to not pay them for two weeks?"

Doing his utmost to take it on the chin, the chef is already exploring options to improve the business' resilience.

He said: "We'll just try and be proactive, think what we can do that's out of the box - maybe we'll do Heaney's at home, takeaway roasts on Sundays definitely and maybe some cook-along just so that we can get staff in and give them a bit of support." 

"We didn't keep everything in place from last time because we didn't expect another full lockdown, but we'll sit down and think about it and see what we can do." 

The question of whether the measures will be effective is one worth pondering, especially given their impact on businesses like his. He pondered: "Is two weeks long enough to make it worthwhile? 

"Obviously we don't want it to be any longer, but is there any point for just two weeks?" 

What's more, having to keep staff on to close down and bringing them back in to prepare before reopening, he said: "It's a lot of expense to close for just two weeks." 

Another punch to roll with

Meanwhile, chef and owner of Michelin-starred restaurant Ynyshir, Gareth Ward, was only due to reopen this Friday, as his team recently tested positive for coronavirus. 

“I chose to close the business down rather than just making them isolate – it’s not worth the risk to the customers," he explained.

Due to its location and 'destination' status, the chef already had cause for concern for Ynyshir, which he and his team have spent seven years nurturing to bring it to its current level of success. 

"Before the lockdown announcement today I was already scared of the Tier system because the Welsh government even before today were going to stop people coming in," he said.

A full lockdown, however, would be another matter.

“I don’t know what we are going to do," he said.

“It’s quite scary really and I feel for everybody – the whole country, not just the hospitality industry," he said. 

An exemplar of adaptability, the chef was able to make permanent changes to his business as a result of the government's 10pm curfew, he explained. 

"It’s something I’d decided I would never go back from. It changed the experience, we start dinner at 5pm and customers thought it was amazing – they are finished by quarter past nine and then they can go to the bar for a drink afterwards and they’re not eating food at midnight and then going to bed.

"People were waking up fresher, the staff were getting home at 11pm – I don’t think there’s any reason to go back to dinner at 8pm.

“It was forced upon us, but it really worked for here.”

Given this, there is reason to hope that the team at Ynyshir will overcome the new restrictions, and anything else the current situation throws at them. 

“I do believe we will go back to normal one day," Gareth said, "but I do think it will have a lasting effect on a lot of industries. We’ve already lost some fucking unbelievable restaurants to it, it’s sad. I think we will lose a lot more because they just can’t survive. I hope I’m not one of them.”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th October 2020

Coronavirus: 'We’ve already lost some fucking unbelievable restaurants to it, it’s sad. I think we will lose a lot more because they just can’t survive'