This week, the government decided to signal hope of an early reopening for restaurants which have been closed for nearly three months as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic. This came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson had flip-flopped on plans to reduce the social distancing rule from two metres, widely believed to be the difference between outright failure and medium-term survival for many restaurants and pubs. Any hope of opening in June was quashed within 24 hours, when business secretary Alok Sharma repeated that hospitality businesses should instead aim for July.
Even then, uncertainty remains, and the government continues to offer the industry a combination of mixed messaging and lack of clarity. When that lack of clarity is matched with an honest understanding of the future economy, the realisation is stark: This week, one major restaurant announced it would almost certainly not reopen again. And yet there are businesses which see stop-gap opportunities amid this uncertainty; this was another week in which more and more restaurants reopened for takeaway and delivery,
Underscoring everything is a lack of resolution on the matter of rent, an issue which continues to threaten the industry’s long-term future in all corners of the city.
Here’s what happened in the London food and restaurant world this week, in brief.
- The government began this week offering the restaurant industry some hope that it could open sooner than originally thought. Though the date of 22 June was dangled, it was predicated on outside trading and an unconfirmed plan to reduce the social distancing rule from to one metre. The so-called “save summer” plan raised more questions than it answered.
- The following day, a different government department confirmed that the July date was in fact the timeframe which restaurants should focus on for their reopening.
- Reopening for any restaurant involves weighing the respective risks of worker and customer safety with the economic impact of remaining closed. McDonald’s reopened almost 1000 restaurants for drive-thru customers last week. This week, its low-paid and BAME workers, who are disproportionately represented at the company, expressed fears for their safety. The importance of worker concerns was underscored by the findings of a delayed government report, which revealed BAME communities have been disproportionately affected by the novel coronavirus.
- The matter of when restaurants reopen is complicated by persistent questions over how they will do so. In what seems to be characteristic fashion, the government this week released draft guidelines for hospitality businesses, which did not offer clarity on what reopening might look like. Instead, measures such as non-rotated shift teams, “wider spacing”, and radioed ordering systems appear to have merely added to operator confusion.
- The how restaurants reopen question is inextricable from the big remaining question over rent payments. Landlords and tenants remain at a deadlock in negotiations. With the next due date for rent falling in under two weeks time, a solution to that problem needs to be found urgently.
- The trade body for hospitality in the UK has outlined its proposal for the future, which gives relief not just to restaurants which cannot pay their bills, but also landlords, who, backed by banks or investors, cannot on their own sanction cancellations or delays.
- For a full explainer on rent — its importance, the current dilemma, and future proposals — read this.
- Such uncertainty prompted one of the city’s most well-known fine dining restaurants to all but announce its permanent closure this week. Brett Graham, chef-owner of two-Michelin-starred Ledbury in Notting Hill, was forced to make all staff redundant, saying that he saw no pathway to reopening the restaurant.
- While many London restaurants remain saddled with uncertainty about their future, there are businesses in the city which faced an existential threat before the pandemic forced their closure. With the threat of landlord redevelopment looming, Lo’s Noodle Factory, a 40-year-old Chinatown institution, has been battling for its survival since last year.
- Similarly, proposed redevelopment continues to threaten the survival of critical community hub in Brixton. A campaign group set up to save Nour Cash and Carry has accused the landlord of issuing misleading information over the decision to evict a business which has served its south London community for nearly 20 years.
- It wouldn’t be a week in the pandemic without a thickening of the plot in the story of Amazon’s investment in delivery giant Deliveroo. The Competition Markets Authority, which first opposed the investment, then provisionally approved it, this week decided to delay making a final decision.
- No strangers to indecision, the U.K. government this week could not decide whether or not it does or doesn’t want to start importing chlorine-washed chicken or hormone-fed beef from the U.S. — an ongoing question it is being forced to wrestle with as part of a post-Brexit trade deal.
- Here’s an updated list of key London restaurants and food businesses reopening for takeaway, collection, and delivery.
- This week that included Michelin-starred Fulham gastropub, The Harwood Arms offering its famous Sunday roast — in a box.
- Elsewhere, the owners of Shoreditch restaurant Lyle’s and bakery Flor launched a brand-new NYC-style pizza delivery brand called ASAP Pizza from Borough Market, with renowned New York baker Pam Yung in charge.
- This weekend, here’s a guide for where to enjoy cocktails and wine at home, delivered from bars across the city.
- Plus updated options for pizza...
- ... pasta ...
- ...and ice cream for collection or via delivery across London.
- And reminder of Eater’s full list of recommended restaurants for collection and takeaway across the city right now.