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Here’s What Happened in the London Restaurant World Last Week

While everyone waits for the government to announce lockdown lifting measures, most restaurants fear the worst, while some chefs keep on cooking

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Some of London’s best chefs are cooking for NHS workers during the coronavirus crisis
Michaël Protin/Eater London

This Sunday 10 May, Boris Johnson is expected to announce the first phases of easing the coronavirus lockdown. This is extremely unlikely to bring concrete updates for restaurants, but might forecast steps they can take to prepare further. The knowledge that any firm news will not be forthcoming has marked this week, with chains looking for an exit, restaurateurs warning of social distancing’s impact on the future, and groups lobbying the government to sustain and expand its support for the sector.

  • On Monday, 85 Tory MPs lobbied Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend his portfolio of support for the restaurant world. They reiterate the calls for rent relief and a furlough scheme extension from restaurants themselves, as well as pushing for a VAT rebate to aid restaurants upon reopening.
  • If Byron Burger reopens, it might be under a new owner. The long-troubled burger chain’s current majority backer, Three Hills Capital Partners, is looking to auction off the business. While Byron’s individual problems — from ineffective rebranding to deep consumer distrust — are well-documented, at its heart the decision reflects pessimism around the immediate future for restaurants.
  • Taking a short break from appearing clumsily in his daughter’s Tiktok feed, Gordon Ramsay was atypically sanguine when discussing that immediate future. The chef suggested that restaurants need to reimagine reopening as a “new opening” on the culinary forum that is the Frank Warren Heavyweight boxing podcast. Ramsay also said he was expecting “great losses” in the coming months.
  • Speaking of clumsy appearances, Michelin is back on main. While it’s delaying its printed guides for 2021, the Red Guide is promising a “digital first” approach, that it says will ensure its stars “mean the same” as they do when inspectors can actually visit restaurants.
  • Read about the top London chefs who’ve adapted during the crisis of the past seven weeks, cooking for Deliver Aid, a new initiative which is now serving 16 London hospitals and two care homes over 1,000 meals a week. Deliver Aid’s aim is to “help those who are helping us.” It’s also helped chefs help themselves by encouraging them to carry on cooking.
  • Coronavirus hasn’t just closed restaurants — it’s fundamentally hastened and exacerbated food insecurity in the U.K. With schools closed, free school meals have been replaced by supermarket vouchers, but their limitations on redemption and, in numerous cases, failure to scan at checkouts are causing families humiliation and hardship.
  • The government’s controversial decision to prevent restaurant owners from including service charge (tronc) additions in their calculations for furloughed employees means that hundreds of thousands of hospitality staff will be out of pocket. On Tuesday, The Wolseley and Brasserie Zedel owner Jeremy King said in his newsletter that the ruling was “discriminatory” and would result in many employees retrieving only 40 percent of their salaries from the government. King also said that social distancing in restaurants in the long-term was both “implausible” and “impossible.”
  • He is supported across the industry, including by the bosses of Hawskmoor steakhouses and D&D Restaurants, who have signed a letter written to the Treasury by Peter Davies, managing director of WMT Troncmaster Services. In it, Davies claims that the decision to exclude tronc from calculations in furlough applications was based on a misunderstanding of how the system works in the majority of restaurants — that tax is paid on the vast majority of those earnings by staff through company PAYE.
  • Today, King published a video announcing what he called Corbin and King’s own “job retention scheme” — asking customers to purchase dining vouchers in advance which could be redeemed at any of the group’s restaurants in the future. He reiterated that excluding tronc was “irrational”, “illogical”, and when announced by the government, was “like a knife that struck to the very heart of the hospitality industry.” He said that 50 percent of monies received from dining vouchers would be paid directly to staff in order, he said, to prevent redundancies and stand the business in good stead for when it reopens in the future.

The Wolseley

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