Chef, restaurateur, and TV host Gordon Ramsay has said that he expects to suffer great losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but remains optimistic about a recovery, even if that will require a complete change of mindset for restaurants. Ramsay feels that social distancing and customer safety will mean imagining any reopening “as a new opening.”
Speaking on the Frank Warren Heavyweight Podcast on Friday night, and reported by Paul Charity in Propel’s newsletter, Ramsay said restaurants are going to need to be “incredibly careful” in how they reset and plan for reopening when faced with new realities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. “We have to imagine these as new openings,” he said. “Forget the salt and pepper, it’s hand sanitiser. Forget the long-winded descriptions, forget table sides. Temperature checks — all these things are going to come into play.”
Ramsay said that he is currently leading three group meetings a week to discuss what new measures his global restaurant portfolio would put in place once those businesses were able to reopen. As well as temperature checks, they are considering spaced tables, personal protective equipment, and how to protect the general well-being of staff and customers. He said it was clear that he and the company would “have to increase security of our customers and make sure they feel safe and feel incredibly well looked after.” But, he said, that is difficult while operators still did not know when or how they would be able to reopen. “All those measures being worked out but it’s a logistical minefield because we’re still uncertain with [the timing of] the vaccine,” he said.
He also praised the U.K. government’s support to date and said the furlough scheme and been “extraordinary” and “instrumental”, adding that after a week of “limbo” when the government advised people to stay away from restaurants without mandating their closure, the “majority” of staff across his business portfolio had been furloughed. Ramsay was heavily criticised in the early days of the crisis after it was reported he’d terminated the contracts of hundreds of employees, instead of placing them on furlough.
Ramsay said the main issue that restaurants with no source of income have now, and will continue to have until a vaccine is found and distributed, is with landlords. He thinks the industry needed a rent deferral extended from three months (it is currently in place until the end of June 2020), to six months, maybe even to nine months, echoing the calls made by other high-profile chefs and restaurateurs in London.
The chef is under no illusion that this an extremely challenging time for restaurants — a business in which there is “no margin for error” — both in London and all over the world. “There will be substantial losses next year, there’s no two ways about that,” he said. He forecasted that by spring 2021, the restaurant business would properly “back up on [their] feet” and hoped to see a first proper wave of custom by Christmas. Before then, he predicted that by the end of May, June, and July, there’d be a period of slow and steady reopening. By September, some form of normality would “kick in” again, he thought.
Pointing to the restaurant industry’s last great challenge — in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, when 35 percent of his restaurant’s business was wiped off because of the reduction in custom from bankers and traders in the City — he said he was “optimistic” and that any recovery would require treating reopening as starting over. “We are going to open up, we are going to be back strong and treat this as a new opening and [like] something better than we were doing before we closed,” he said. Whether that extends to the type of restaurants Ramsay opens in future — and whether or not opening post-crisis might curb his more culturally appropriative tendencies, he did not say.
Gordon Ramsay’s global portfolio stands at 34 restaurants and bars, with 16 in London, including his eponymous three-Michelin-starred original on Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea. It also includes two restaurants in France, 10 in America, two in Dubai, two Qatar, one in China, and one in Singapore.