'I have more confidence in our current takeaway model than this leap into the dark'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Yesterday, many of us in the hospitality industry cheered as the Prime Minister gave the all clear for restaurants, pubs and bars to reopen on July 4th. 

Assuming operators can abide by the monolithic list of guidelines set out by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), we will soon be returning to something much closer to normal than anything we have seen for the past three months. 

Or will we?

Chef, restaurateur and once MasterChef: The Professionals finalist, Alex Rushmer, isn't so sure. 

In a blog post, the owner of restaurant Vanderlyle in Cambridge, explained that his establishment would remain closed - except for deliveries - on July 4th, as, for him, the risks of reopening far outweigh those of remaining closed. 

He said: "A lack of clinical decision making at the start of the crisis gives me little confidence that the government will successfully negotiate our exit from it."

And, as lockdown measures have been eased in around the world, "all resulted in infection spikes and increases in R rates.Covid isn't going away."

Written before the guidance was published yesterday, he lamented the lack of a plan or of a support network should lockdown measures "need to be ratcheted up again," adding that if this were to occur, "reopening a small independent restaurant becomes a gamble I cannot make."

The chef raised concerns about the government's track and trace system, which would put him and other operators in a situation of potentially having to decide between financial decay and the health of staff, customers, and the wider community.

"The prospect of taking reservations, stocking a kitchen, preparing a menu, calling staff back from furlough and reopening, only to have to close again at a moment’s notice, is truly terrifying," he said.

Reduced capacity presents further issues, he explained, as restaurants already struggled to turn a profit before the pandemic struck.

"Margins have been squeezed so far over the past few years that even at full capacity it can be fearsomely difficult to break even." 

He added that he "would be surprised if there was a single restaurateur in the country that has forecast at 30-50% capacity and been anything other than ashen-faced at the outcome."

Instead, he said that he would continue to operate with his current takeaway model, rather than what he called a "leap into the dark."

Finally, he explained, we shouldn't expect restaurants to get back to normal, and that is why his will remain closed until they can be.

He said: "My final reason is one of expectation butting up against reality. We all desperately want restaurants to reopen because of what they are and what they represent. Because of the memories we make there, because of the ballet of great service and the warmth of being cooked for.

"We want to eat and not have to think about the washing up. We want someone else – anyone else – to pick a bottle of wine for us. We want everything from heat-blistered pizzas, blasted in an oven twice as hot as the one at home, to the full monty tasting menu and so many wines that you forget what you had for dessert before the final spoonful."

"I want all this, too. I want to cook and put your food on a plate instead of in a box. I want to pour you a glass of wine and tell you why it will pair so well with the main course. Can all this be done from behind screens, gloved and masked and incessantly worried about finances or whether or not the restaurant will have to close for two weeks because of a single phone call?

"For now – for me – the answer is no, it can’t. There is too much still outside of our control."

The chef stressed that he and his team would continue to strive to deliver the highest standard of food as possible,  and that hopefully, this would "go some way to reminding you – and us – what we have to look forward to when the time is right."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 24th June 2020

'I have more confidence in our current takeaway model than this leap into the dark'