Jeremy King, joint architect of London institutions The Wolseley, The Delaunay, Brasserie Zedel, and more, has fired another volley of criticism in the government’s direction over its approach to the hospitality world during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking in conjunction with Seat at the Table, the campaign to install a Minister for Hospitality in Parliament, King said:
I am just incredulous that after some 45 years in the hospitality industry I am still witnessing my colleagues and I treated as second-class citizens. We are still not accorded the recognition nor respect that we deserve as one of the top three revenue generators in this country.
Key to this, he says, is the omission of representation in Parliament for such a contributor to the U.K. economy. Having garnered the 100,000 signatures required, a petition for such a minister will be heard in the Commons in January next year, but that could already be too late to make a meaningful difference to the future of many of the country’s restaurants, pubs, and bars.
King’s line of thought chimes with two key discourses that have run since March: that the hospitality industry has been somehow scapegoated by restrictions, particularly in respect of “substantial meals” and the prior 10 p.m. curfew; and that a lack of unified political representation has significantly reduced its ability to meaningfully present its case to the government.
It is perhaps more accurate to say that instead of scapegoating hospitality, the government has failed it — unable to provide consistent, clear measures allied to financial support, and instead yo-yoing establishments with vastly different priorities through the same set of shifting guidance, stratifying who can open when, and on what terms, without providing financial support proportionate to each case. Chef and restaurateur Andrew Wong recently told Eater that talking about hospitality as a monolith had been one of the key failings through the crisis: “I think that there needs to be a sub dividing of what the gov currently simply refers to as ‘Hospitality’, as an industry it encompasses so many different types of businesses, each with their own risks with regards to Covid-19. It’s not particularly constructive or even economically sensible to put everyone under a single umbrella.”
That brings up the second discourse — that while ministerial representation would grant these diverse businesses more power, it wouldn’t necessarily lead to granular prioritising between what an independent restaurant in central London might need and what a “wet-led” pub in a rural village might need. UK Hospitality, the biggest lobbying group, has at times found itself crossing purposes with other groups like Hospo Demo and Hospitality Union; several London chefs tell Eater that they don’t feel represented by the current offering at all; St. John’s Trevor Gulliver is far from certain that the government wouldn’t just mess up the role altogether.
For the city’s beleaguered restaurants, King vocalises something many of them feel: that the government doesn’t appear to care about their fortunes, and hasn’t cared since Eat Out to Help Out. As he says, “we have patiently awaited ministerial representation but now our patience is exhausted and we are forced to demand it.” If it comes to pass, the person tasked with the position will find the same problems he describes waiting for them.