'It's been absolutely devastating'

The  Staff Canteen

In the past ten days, we've heard chefs and restaurateurs we once believed were untouchable announce the permanent closure of their venues. It is reasonable to ask ourselves, is anyone safe in this climate?

Michelin-starred chef Chris Galvin, who, together with his brother Jeff Galvin, owns seven restaurants in the Essex region and in London, fears that their decision to close before the government-ordained lockdown has irreversibly damaged their business.

Speaking to EssexLive, Chris Galvin explained that he had feared that he would have to let his entire staff go. 

"It's been really hard on us as a company," he said, "because we took the decision to close before we were told to in order to protect our customers and staff.

Despite having endured four recessions and a credit crunch, the chef said that Covid-19 has had the most damaging impact on his businesses - "without a shadow of a doubt".

"Even the recession in 1989 to 1990 was nothing like this, we were still working," he said. 

The chef said that before the Coronavirus gripped the UK, he was warned by people in India - which he visited to take part in a judging competition - to take action.

"People were asking us if we'd heard about what's coming. They told us to get a mask on, they were begging us.

"We didn't know what they were talking about, but in March we went into freefall. I sat with my brother and the general managers and we looked at each other and said 'we can't do this'.

"We thought at first we might have to close for two weeks, we didn't imagine three months."

With their entire staff on furlough, not knowing what the next steps are going to be upon reopening - but knowing that social distancing will require fewer people on site at any given time - and how contributions and flexibility will play out for them, the chef expressed concerns with regards to staffing and logistics. 

He said: "Safety is paramount.

"There will be a sanitising station when people enter and we will regularly clean the bathrooms," he added.

"We have to think about how we approach tables and how we keep the flow of things. One metre social distancing gives us a fighting chance.

"We're going to be wearing masks and two hats when we work. We have a whole heap of costs coming in and no upside.

He conceded that some staff might still have to be let go, as weekly turnovers could decrease by more than half unless social distancing measures are lifted soon. 

He said: "We have 70 members of staff and we're going to fight hard to keep every single person with the support of furlough.

"That has been amazing because otherwise we would be gone. We can't wait to be back."

Finally, he said, and most crucially, will be inspiring customer confidence and encouraging them to eat out again. 

"Some people don't have any money coming in and now they have less money in their pockets because of being laid off. Will people have the money to go out?

"I've been looking at surveys and 60 to 70 per cent of people want to know it's safe before they go somewhere."

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th June 2020

'It's been absolutely devastating'