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Week of Reality Checks Offers London’s Restaurants Glimmer of Clarity

A complex seven days for the industry, digested and explained

UK Remains On Lockdown Due To Coronavirus As Infection Rate Appears To Slow Photo by Kate Green/Getty Images

The U.K. government ordered restaurants to shut down on 20 March, with a sizeable number having closed prior to that as uncertainty over novel coronavirus’ impact on the restaurant world grew. This is the first week in 35 sobering days that feels at least a little clarifying for the restaurant industry, even if that clarity also exacerbates and confirming long held fears about the ensuing months. A lot has happened, and it can be hard to see the wood for the trees, so here’s a digest of what has happened, and what it could mean.

  • Visions of that future to date coalesce around one keystone: to survive coronavirus, restaurants can never go back to “normal.” They now face twin challenges, existential and practical. Adaptations to waxing and waning lockdowns and softer restrictions will have to respond to communities whose minds are wary, movements are restricted, and finances are tightened; whether or not those succeed, they pull back the veil on a fundamental truth: COVID-19 is going to transform what it means to be a restaurant.
Shoreditch grill Brat briefly became a market; now it’s reassessing its options
Brat [Official Photo]

  • So: perhaps, with a package of sustained, genuine government protection and support, restaurants can think about reopening when lockdown measures are relaxed with some social distancing and epidemiologically validated practices in place. This assumes that diners will immediately want to come back. According to an initial YouGov poll, many won’t — and are wary, even scared — which is another ballast to the theory that restaurants need to place all their emphasis on meeting their customers where they are. Early evidence from Hong Kong and China suggests that restaurateurs cannot take this concern lightly.
Quality Chop House in Clerkenwell is closed in central London due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in the capital
Quality Chop House, in Clerkenwell
Michael Prötin

As further data around coronavirus’ impact on the restaurant and food retail industries emerges, those vicissitudes of corona-time and its annihilation of restaurants’ former norm will become even clearer; there will be more pain for businesses, but also more clarity on what they can functionally do.

More soon.