While plans to get through social distancing continue, restaurants that have been able to open through the novel coronavirus have settled into a kind of detente with the circumstances, adapting and evolving their business and responding to shorter term demand brought about by the weather. At the same time, the looming non-resolution around rents squeezes the industry, and the gargantuan delivery companies that strip revenues to widen reach are ... sparring in public. Here’s the week in London restaurants, rounded up.
- The week began with alcoholic fizzy fruit water. White Claw, the hard seltzer brand that gripped American drinking culture through summer 2019, is pressing ahead with plans to launch in the U.K. Despite pressing concerns that most of the country doesn’t know what seltzer is, and most of its ideal drinking conditions make mockery of social distancing, the bleakly devastating closure of pubs could give White Claw a new avenue.
- The U.K. government finally added anosmia — the loss of taste and smell — to its official list of COVID-19 symptoms. It’s been cited as a symptom requiring self-isolation by the World Health Organisation and other nations for a couple of months, and the fear is that it has led to avoidable transmission by people told only to self-isolate with a fever or dry cough.
- The government continued its addressing of things with the assertion that a “more European” dining culture could aid restaurants through the summer. Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has floated “blanket permission” legislation that would permit restaurants and cafes to set up tables and chairs outside and in the streets, provided they already have a license to do so. The Continent! The romance! The irony of soon being severed from the European Union! This idea, currently, is more likely to resemble a market than a cobbled piazza.
- A nod to the neighbours isn’t going to ballast restaurants against their biggest fear: rent. Relief measures will expire at the start of July, and the government’s current plan of encouraging restaurants and landlords to work together has not led to any useful, scalable resolution. Trade body U.K. Hospitality thus implored ministers to “urgently step in to broker a solution at a high-level ministerial summit,” which would spread responsibility between restaurant owners, landlords, investors, and the government itself. U.K. Hospitality chief Kate Nicholls was clear: “If the commercial rental market collapses, it will be to the long-term detriment of the whole economy and lead to millions of hospitality workers losing their jobs and swathes of businesses permanently closing their doors.”
- Delivery and takeaway have become a vital avenue for London’s restaurants, but two of the biggest pedallers in the country have devoted the week to trading insults over Amazon money. Deliveroo and Just Eat are rowing over Amazon’s £461 million investment in the former company, with the latter claiming that “the quality of [Deliveroo’s] business model” is the root of its desperate need for cash. Deliveroo maintains it’s COVID-19 that has caused its decline, but, citing its continued demand from restaurants, Just Eat isn’t buying it.
- Italian chain Carluccio’s has had a rough two years, and they continue with the expected closure of over 40 restaurants and the loss of over 1,000 jobs. The remaining 30 restaurants will be taken over by Boparan, which owns “global” chain Giraffe and fried chicken outfit Slim Chickens; it’s expected to roll out the latter across at least 10 Carluccio’s sites.
- In Brixton, a much smaller operation faces a greater threat. Brixton Market landlord Hondo Enterprises served longstanding food shop Nour Cash and Carry with an eviction notice in January, with the date set at 22 July. Activist group Save Nour has applied pressure on Hondo, with the future of Nour not just affecting one, vital hub — particularly for Brixton’s Caribbean and West African communities — but the texture of Brixton’s past and future.