As novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to hit London’s restaurant industry, the city’s restaurateurs are taking social distancing into their own hands by closing restaurants and reducing capacity, in the absence of clear governmental guidance.
Mangal 2, the essential Turkish restaurant on Dalston’s Kingsland Road, announced its closure “for the foreseeable future” on Twitter yesterday evening, with general manager Ferhat Dirik saying “You can thank Boris.” Recently opened, outstanding Spitalfields noodle bar Noodle and Beer and Camberwell neighbourhood stalwart Silk Road also announced temporary closures over the weekend; dim sum specialist Royal China Bayswater will close until May. Chinatown restaurants Joy King Lau, Jin Li, Long Ji, and Young Cheng have all closed for “maintenance”; Hunanese specialist Rice Coming has shut down for “renovation” on Coptic Street. One of London’s best coffee shops, Kaffeine, will close both its locations from 4p.m. today.
Writing on Instagram, Noodle and Beer director Xiaoxiao Wang said:
“As the unprecedented outbreak of Coronavirus continues, we have decided to close our restaurant temporarily. From Monday March 16th and until the situation improves and health authorities advise it.”
“We are in a very serious situation. We must collaborate in everything we can. Keeping people healthy and well is what our business is all about, and we have always adhered to the highest standards of hygiene. However, this situation calls for special measures, so we’ve stepped it up. Rather than wait for guidelines to change, we had to make a difficult decision to close our restaurant.”
Silk Road posted a notice to its restaurant’s door, saying that “As a family run business, we have vulnerable members that may be affected by the virus most. This extreme move is to minimum the risk, and also to protect our customers.”
These closures follow the initial response to the virus’ disproportionate effect on London’s Chinatown restaurants, and occur in — thus far — the context of an absence of government guidelines on gatherings and social distancing. A 12 billion pound novel coronavirus relief package is not expected to help the majority of London restaurants, as it only covers businesses up to a rateable value of £51,000. Almost all (central) restaurants exceed this. U.K. Hospitality has called for further restaurant relief, including an annulment of business rates (taxes) for three months.
While New York City restaurants, Los Angeles restaurants, and restaurants across America are mandated to close or impose restrictions by municipal government, the U.K. strategy is yet to extend this far; this is widely forecast to change this (Monday 16 March) afternoon. This leaves restaurateurs and diners burdened with economic decisions and moral quandaries that they should not be forced to make by themselves.
If staying open, a working group of food and beverage professionals has put together an epidemiologist-validated set of novel coronavirus guidelines for businesses to follow.
More soon on the evolving impact of novel coronavirus on London restaurants.