London restaurants have been allowed to reopen for dine-in service for two weeks. In that time, some have returned with new safety measures in place, serving a clientele which is growing accustomed to a new reality in hospitality. The government has attempted to offer relief for restaurateurs with tax cuts, grants, and a new nationwide dining scheme. But with tourism still largely suspended and workers not yet returning to their offices, much of London is still relying on takeaway, delivery, and outdoor dining, whilst also attempting to draw consumers out of their neighbourhoods and back into the city. With rent obligations for restaurant tenants still unresolved, the future for so many remains uncertain.
Here’s what happened this week in the London restaurant world.
- It has long been the case that a serious worry for hospitality venues was that once they were open, they needed customers to return. Soberingly, a survey by the Office of National Statistics revealed at the end of last week that 60 percent of respondents signalled that they are not comfortable dining inside restaurants.
- In the face of prejudice early in the pandemic, an obstinate landlord through it, mounting rent debt, fewer tourists, and hugely diminished footfall, restaurateurs in Chinatown fear that the area will struggle to recover from this crisis.
- On the opposite side of Shaftesbury Avenue, a new outdoor dining scheme aided by road closures and a relaxation of regulation has seen drinkers and diners return to Soho in significant numbers. A photo essay on how it looked this week.
- An unprecedented crisis and prolonged period of closure has resulted in restaurant owners contemplating new policies for a new reality. Service charges are being scrapped by three high-profile restaurants in the city as they look to apply a new form of fairness in how staff are remunerated. This week, “no-show” charges have re-entered the discourse, with London institution St. John announcing it would charge guests who did not turn up for a reservation.
- Elsewhere, there continues to be innovation that is set to outlast this crisis. One of London’s most creative modern restaurants and wine bars pivoted to delivery and collection early in the pandemic. The Laughing Heart this week announced that it will expand its proprietary online platform, Big Night, into a fully fledged restaurant delivery service, aiming to offer what restaurant owner and platform co-founder Charlie Mellor describes as more representative of in-restaurant service.
- There is no escaping the impact of the pandemic on the wider economy in the medium- and long-term: Restaurants will continue to close and jobs will be lost in significant numbers, no matter the agility of operators able recover customers and revenues. The high street restaurant chains are among those in the mid-market which are shrinking their portfolios as the future reality becomes clearer and investors pull out. This week, U.K.-favourite Pizza Express was revealed to be in such serious debt that any deal which rescues the restaurant business could resultantly wipe out its current owner, the private equity firm Hony Capital.
- One way in which chains are attempting to draw customers back is through price reductions, which they have been able to implement in the wake of the government’s reduction of VAT from 20 to 5 percent. This could yet increase the gulf between those large companies and the city’s independent restaurants, which typically have less working capital and are therefore less capable of passing on any saving to their customer.
- The government also announced this week that while face masks will be compulsory in shops from 24 July, the same rule will not apply to restaurants.
Don’t forget, in spite of reopened dining rooms, takeaway has not gone away:
- Here’s where to find the best grilled food in the city outside or via delivery right now.
- A reminder of the best takeaway coffee in the city; a new suite of ice cream delivery contenders; and superb sandwiches.
- The best restaurant delivery in London right now.
- And a full list of dining guides for the weekend.
Until next week, eat well and be safe.