Last week, for the first time in a while, U.K. restaurants could set a date. On 4 July, restaurants will be able to reopen — subject to the continued satisfaction of medical advice from the government. Though that date brings little in the way of certainty, it does offer a timeline, and more restaurants have begun to consider their corona-time strategies as a result.
Here’s what that looked like.
- Before there was one date, there were two. On Sunday last week, Boris Johnson told the U.K. that some hospitality businesses could open in phase three of the government’s reopening plan, on 1 July. By the next morning, it was 4 July, with a crucial caveat: spaces “crowded by design” like no-reservation restaurants and many pubs would almost certainly have to wait until after that date. This, together with the risk that the date could change at almost no notice depending on how the pandemic develops, means that for most restaurants, the opening date is irrelevant: the extent of coming government support matters far more.
- That’s even truer for pubs: Those without outdoor spaces or beer gardens are even more susceptible to revenue loss from social distancing than restaurants are. With the government’s guidance making this category disparity clearer than ever, the pub industry has followed restaurants in calling for specific, sustained financial intervention.
- The restaurant industry did further lobbying of its own: Trade body U.K. Hospitality pressured the government to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) until the end of September with no reduction in wage support, as a sector-specific measure. It also made clear that the scheme would need to remain until the end of 2020, this time with reduced wage support supplemented by employers. The action was prompted by rumours that the scheme was set to be curtailed as soon as July.
- Chancellor Rishi Sunak quashed the rumours on the same day, distancing himself from ministers quoted on the country’s “addiction” to the scheme. The CJRS was extended through October, with wage percentages remaining at 80, employers will be expected to make contributions from August. While welcome breathing room, the continued exclusion of service charges and tips distributed by tronc is now under greater scrutiny, as it continues to leave restaurant workers out of pocket with no clear rationale.
- That scrutiny arrived on Friday, as MPs joined the restaurant industry in lobbying against a policy that London restaurateur Jeremy King has publicly called “extraordinarily discriminatory.” With the scheme’s chassis secure, restaurateurs see an opportunity to tinker, in a way that will be advantageous to their workers.
- The extent of COVID-19’s impact on the restaurant industry will not be clear for many months, but new gross domestic product (GDP) figures for the U.K. put the current financial downturn into sharp relief. While GDP declined by 2 percent in the first quarter of 2020, the hospitality industry saw a sales decline of 21 percent. Straightforward comparison, this is not, but with sales set to decline even more sharply through summer, the industry harnessed the news as another call for sustained relief, including a 9-month rent holiday.
- The restaurant industry has also taken the date as an opportunity to develop adaptations and strategies for reopening: new menus, new businesses, new approaches. Notables right now include rotisserie chicken from a Shoreditch Michelin star; the city’s coolest bakery getting back on the bread, and one of the most popular groups in the city flexing its muscles.
- Ahead of the weekend, here’s a reminder of Eater London’s freshly updated recommended restaurants for takeaway and delivery across the city, as well as suggestions in central London, the north, east, south east, south west, and west, too.
- For those wishing to cook for themselves at home, take some inspiration from Eater writers’ list of all-time favourite cookbooks, and shop London’s best independent food and drink suppliers online, via the ultimate guide to the city’s best butchers, bakers, delis, fishmongers, coffee, wine, and beer suppliers.