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Forecast Confirms Restaurant ‘Bloodbath’ Without Government Intervention

Grim projections for the remainder of 2020 validate industry’s calls for wide-ranging support

A restaurant closed by coronavirus in London
The restaurant sector’s future is bleak without intervention
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The U.K. restaurant industry can put numbers on the scale of its COVID-19 downturn for the first time, as two new sets of research from trade body U.K. Hospitality paint a grim, if not unexpected, picture.

A new tracker counts a 21 percent drop in sales for the first quarter of 2020, while month-on-month projections for the rest of the year model the worst and best-case scenarios for June until December against 2019’s sales figures. The worst-case scenario for June is 4 percent of last year; the best is 24 percent. Upturn by December is expected to reach 69 percent of last year’s trade, at most. The situation is dire, and it’s only going to get worse through the summer.

The figures — collated from 378 survey responses covering operators of nearly 21,000 restaurants, bars, and cafes, collectively employing over 370,000 people — validate the restaurant industry’s unified call for significant, sustained government intervention as novel coronavirus restrictions move unpredictably between full lockdown and softer periods of reoepening, predicated on new social distancing measures that could last until the end of 2020.

Both U.K. Hospitality and pressure group Hospitality Union, as well as independent restaurateurs, agree that the most significant measures to aid the industry are a nine-month rent holiday and an extension of chancellor Rishi Sunak’s coronavirus furlough scheme. They would work in concert, the groups say, to allow restaurants to survive and partially reopen while mitigating the projected plummet in capacity and customers — the twin effect of public health restrictions and wary diners.

This is a liminal time for restaurants and government alike. With no significant news on lockdown measures expected until 7 May, the industry’s only recourse is to lobby the government on the measures it believes will save it from what U.K. Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls has repeatedly called a “bloodbath.”