Following the hint of clarity on when restaurants might reopen and what reopening might mean, this week’s anticipated announcement on plans for a phased emergence from lockdown will likely be even bigger. In between, the country’s chain behemoths eyed swifter reopenings, while independents did further work on what the future looks like and how to get there.
- The week started badly for millions of restaurant workers, as HMRC confirmed that tronc cannot be included in wages paid by the government as part of the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS). The clarification came days after restaurateurs started submitting claims, and weeks after the scheme was launched, belatedly putting to an end a period of ambiguous guidance and conflicting advice.
- It also saw the most ambitious reopening plan to date from a national chain, with Greggs planning to open its 2,000 bakeries by 1 July — the current end date for the CJRS. The phased reopening has since been put on hold after fears about customers crowding the first 20 restaurants to open, exemplifying the responsibilities restaurant groups have to their employees and workers as they attempt to bring money back into their businesses.
- One, maligned way of introducing money right now is the government’s coronavirus loans and grants, which added another suite of “quick, simple” lending options this week after widespread criticism over their parameters, ease of access, and speed of receipt. The key takeaway? It may seem simplistic, but loans are debt: accumulating liabilities in service of short-term survival is not going to keep restaurants open.
- Something that might keep them open is collaborative work with suppliers. Meat destined for some of the city’s best kitchens is now on the open market with Cornish butcher Philip Warren’s “On the Pass” initiative. One of many incidences of restaurant suppliers using grocery delivery to keep their producers’ cash flowing, restaurants could use their expertise and real estate in the future as collection hubs and quasi-retail environments, as suppliers’ delivery capacity gets filled up on their cooking once again.
- To ensure that happens, the restaurant industry needs an extension to the CJRS. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is mulling the particulars for the hardest hit industries in the U.K. as of this week, and it’s the key measure — alongside a nine-month rent holiday — that restaurants say is essential to their survival.
- The desperation of that survival received some welcome, if grim further validation this week. A wide-ranging survey from U.K. Hospitality posited that, without government intervention, the worst-case trading scenario for June is 4 percent of last year’s sales; the best is 24 percent. Upturn by December is expected to reach 69 percent of 2019’s trade, at most. The situation is dire, and it’s only going to get worse through the summer without other means of income and trade.
- As London’s operators face up to that future, more and more of the city’s best restaurants are laying delivery and takeaway groundwork, from whole new brands to introducing grocery-style delivery.
- McDonald’s, meanwhile, is joining Greggs in floating reopening — planning to open 15 restaurants by 13 May. It is under pressure from the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union over its guarantees on staff pay and safety, with the union seeking assurances on testing and workers’ rights when they cannot work. These will be running themes as the U.K. announces phased plans to exit lockdown, with the first key update expected on 7 May.