Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday evening that England would move into lockdown from Thursday 5 November. It means restaurants, pubs, bars, and cafes must close after last orders on Wednesday evening, unless they are offering takeaway or delivery. The new restrictions will be in place until at least Wednesday 2 December.
Trade body UK Hospitality reacted to the government’s announcement saying that “the costs to hospitality businesses of a second lockdown will be even heavier than the first, coming after periods of forced closure, the accumulation of mass debt and then significantly lower trading due to the restrictions of recent weeks.” It added that it “will hurt for months and years to come. The extension of furlough for a further month does help to protect our workforce during this difficult time.”
“Hospitality businesses have already been pushed to the limits...It is critical that businesses are given a lifeline to survive the winter, before being given the support to enter a revival phase in 2021, as the nation’s prospects improve.”
Today, Eater spoke to chefs and restaurateurs across the city to gauge the mood from an industry anticipating another period of critical uncertainty: What happens next?
The below interviews have been edited for clarity.
Asma Khan, Darjeeling Express, Covent Garden
Khan closed the original Darjeeling Express, in Kingly Court during the the spring lockdown, only to announce in the summer that she would be opening a new, bigger restaurant on Garrick Street this autumn.
We are still going ahead with the deli opening on our original opening date: 18 November. We will be doing takeaway of the entire menu. We are also in the process of finding a good delivery partner and will probably be introducing home delivery in the near future. Presuming the lockdown is not extended — we are opening on 5th December — inshallah as they say in my culture! Capco, my landlord, has been extremely supportive since we took the lease and I am confident they will continue to help us through this difficult time.
Personally, like the first lockdown, I think this one was called too late. Hospitality is clearly being made to carry the can — ironically both my children have to attend school and college (with online lectures); I am of course not allowed to serve customers in my restaurant! I’m also infuriated by the throwaway comment by Michael Gove that the lockdown may get extended. Fanning flames of insecurity in the industry. There is total lack of leadership in this government. They are fiddling while hospitality burns.
Normah Abd Hamid, Normah’s, Queensway
Hamid crowdfunded in the summer to reopen Normah’s, which she did in August having been closed since March.
I have been expecting this to come. And I am hoping that this time the government are doing it properly and get the figure right. How many people have been tested. How many are positive . How many casualty because of covid. So we can be certain of the graft and gain public trust. Politician should stop making unnecessary announcements if they are not certain of the fact. That will only make general public confused.
We are more prepared for this time than in March. In the sense that since we reopen in last week of August we have been buying our stock on daily basis and what can be consume regularly. So there is no issue of unloading stock. But obviously the cost is a bit higher.
We are giving 25 percent off before this coming Thursday lockdown.
Lockdown to go beyond 2 December? That would be of a different story altogether... All the monthly fixed charges like WiFi, bank charges, council tax, rates, to name a few. All this adds up.
And what really really really worried me is people going to be out jobs. When people don’t have money coming into their pocket, they don’t have money to spend and it’s going to effect the economic cycle. As we all know the main percentage of people’s expenditure is on food and shelter.
We are not able to do takeaway or delivery as the Queensway market is going to be closed from this coming Thursday.
Adejoké Bakare, Chishuru, Brixton
Chishuru, a new West African restaurant, opened in late August.
We were hoping that London might go in tier 3 restrictions, but when France went we knew it was only time and we would as well. We have been looking into what to pivot to...Ideas, nothing definite yet.
Since this lockdown has a definite end date we will be able to put plans in place to ensure we can survive.
We plan to give our guests that are able to in a great time. Then looking to see if the idea of click and collect dinner kits will be viable.
I felt slightly deflated, when the news of the lockdown was announced. We were just getting repeat customers in, and getting comfortable in the space then this. But it is what it is and we move!!! I am going to think up more delicious things to make for when we reopen.
John Devitt, co-owner Koya, Soho and The City
Cult Japanese restaurant Koya reopened its two restaurants in late July, introducing takeaway delivery for the first time.
We had planned for this and hoped it wouldn’t happen! We have delivery and click and collect solutions and had planned to turn on [delivery app] Big Night on Thursday, with meals for two at home and so forth.
This is easier to take [than March] as we have plans in place. It’s survival time so need to focus on getting through these weeks and months and look forward to brighter days.
I don’t see us reverting to the severity of the first lockdown. We now know what’s coming and hopefully it won’t be as long as the last one. If, and that’s a big IF, we do come out of lockdown on 2nd December, it may we’ll be into Tier 3. So we need to be flexible.
This week, we’ll sell down stock levels, and prepare for take out only.
The furlough extension is great news. What else? Extension on rates holiday and VAT reduction. Rent is always the big question: Can there be some sort of government initiative/guidance for landlords?
If lockdown is extended beyond 2 December... I plan on being here for the long haul. We have a CBILS loan which should get us to the vaccine window and then reassess our financial situation.
Daniel Morgenthau, Woodhead Restaurants (Quality Chop House, Quality Wines, Clipstone, Portland)
Obviously, being a small business the reality is we have spent most of time over the last few months reacting to and absorbing change and therefore preparing for each curveball has been pretty much impossible but we are pleased with the way we have reacted to them and hope to react to the new lockdown in the same spirit.
From Thursday, QCH Shop will open seven days a week, with nationwide and local QCH deliveries and next-day pick up from the shop and some kind of ‘Quality Wines at Home’ offer. Our other restaurants, Portland and Clipstone, will be back as soon as lockdown permits and we may well explore delivery options there in the meantime too.
It’s easier [than March] in that we know more about what causes the virus to spread and how to keep our kitchens and retail spaces as safe and healthy as possible. But frankly, it is much much harder in terms of the cumulative effect on the spirit of our teams and our colleagues which is quite frankly always our main concern, pandemic or no pandemic.
This week: Most importantly we need to make sure that our teams have the financial support that they will need to navigate the next four weeks and possibly longer. So the main focus over the weekend has been putting plans in place for our colleagues who have been unbelievably resilient this year.
We are in a fortunate position where, thanks to the shop, butcher and our delivery operations we will be able to offer work to a sizeable proportion of our team.
What we need most (ideally) would be some clear guidelines on what will be deemed manageable or not to get back to “tier-based” trading or even “normal” trading with social distancing and/or early closure, or the rule of six. Of course, it’s impossible on some level to predict how the virus and therefore the pandemic will develop over the next few months but having an Option A, B and C based on cases and incidence of the virus would at least help small businesses to plan and be as clear as possible with their employees. And of course the elephant in the room is that the government is yet to step in terms of tipping the balance in the landlord/tenant relationship in favour of the tenant and in particular the small business. Small businesses in retail and hospitality do not make vast profits but they employ lots of people and make people happy — there is a danger those benefits will be lost to satisfy the out-dated commercial arrangements drawn up by far wealthier landlords.
We have traded relatively well since the first lockdown and we have (some!) understanding landlords and most importantly some wonderful and loyal guests. We will last beyond December 2nd but the key to doing so will be (if possible!) some guidelines by the middle/end of November as to when we will be able to return to even Tier 2 regulations.
Michelle Salazar de la Rocha, co-owner Sonora Taqueria, London Fields
Before lockdown, Sonora Taqueria was Pollo Feliz, a food stall specialising in the flour tortillas of northwestern Mexico. A successful pivot to tortilla delivery in lockdown preceded the move to a bigger site, new name, and expanded menu.
We’re still trying figuring our the details but this is our plan for the first weeks (expecting lockdown extensions and more bs):
We’ll stay open for takeaway on our regular hours but with a limited menu. Offering one meat and one veg taco for collection only, no food delivery.
We’re limiting the hot food in order to bring back our products for home cooking and also to avoid waste if people are actually staying home.
We are bringing back tortilla packs, salsas and introducing other products like cajeta. These will be available to purchase at our stall on opening hours and delivered through Click it Local for now.
We’ll see how things go and how much demand there is on the weekend. It’s tricky to make decisions and place big orders with our suppliers when every rule and every action is so unreliable.
Daniel Willis, The Clove Club, Luca, Two Lights, Shoreditch and Clerkenwell
The Clove Club, Shoreditch’s modern European Michelin-starred restaurant opened on 1 September. Its owners, Willis, Isaac McHale, and Johnny Smith had already reopened modern American restaurant Two Lights and Italian Luca, the former in a stripped-back nod to American comfort food.
We always knew there was another chance of a lockdown so we continued to improve and push forward with Two Lights’ fried chicken and Luca at Home.
This time, it’s less of a shock but emotionally it feels more draining especially after the curfew and tier restrictions.
From our perspective we have already created two new offerings in Luca at home and Two Lights Fried Chicken and so it’s a continuation of bringing a little of the restaurant experience to people’s homes, with the help of Big Night App. We’re hoping to try and offer a version of Luca at home nationwide and we’re looking at logistics now.
Like many others we’ve seen a huge jump up in reservations between now and Thursday so we’re going to try and make the most of it, serve our guests delicious things to eat and drink and try and bring a bit of pre lock down joy. For the Clove Club we made a decision quite early on that we’re not going to try and re-create what we do for “at home” — it just didn’t feel quite right but you never know perhaps lock down will bring some inspiration!?
It would be good for the government to [now] deliver on their “world beating” track and trace system. 15 minute tests would also greatly help across all industries. More support for tenants in terms of rights and imposed rent reductions across the industry would also really help.
I really hope we get open for Christmas as it’s my favourite time of year at the restaurant. I love working long lunches and watching people really enjoy themselves, everyone’s always in a good mood and so relaxed. If lockdown continues into next year then we’ll be ready to re-open with a new menu, new ideas and a spring in our step for a new hopefully more prosperous year!
Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim, Primeur, Jolene, Westerns Laundry, and Big Jo
Cometto-Lingenheim and his business partner chef David Gingell opened their fourth north London neighbourhood spot, Big Jo in Hornsey, over the summer.
We have been preparing for this since the last lockdown so we would not be caught with our pants down. We are much stronger as a company if we take control of the destiny of our own people by putting in place preventative/active measures rather than waiting for people in government to make up their mind and be reactive.
We can survive this of course as well as flourish: this is a time to experiment and being more fluid with offers and formats. The challenge with Lockdown 1 was the newness of everything and the goal post changing rapidly. The advantage was that everyone was in the same boat, and for a while. Lock down 2 is more complicated in a way. People are fatigued and fed up and therefore take things less seriously, it is also difficult for restaurants to take medium/long terms costly adaptive measures when they are told Lockdown 2 is only going to last four weeks. A lot of people don t have the funds to make the changes necessary to adapt and therefore close because really what is the point to develop a new platform when it might be obsolete in four weeks.
We are lucky that our activities are different from our restaurant to our bakeries. The baking side of things has focused us on what people want and we have physically altered Big Jo a design with Lockdown 2 in mind. Westerns has a courtyard which we ll be turning into an outdoor farmers market as well as a mini jo serving baked goods, pizzas, sandwiches, vegetables, cheese, wine etc... Primeur will close as we have also learned to condense our operation and focus it where it counts rather than spread our activities to much for the sake of keeping the doors open everywhere.
What we need is clarity, time, consistency, notice period. This lockdown should have happened four weeks ago and should last at least 56 days, which is two full cycles of infection. Christmas should not be a factor for re-opening early because it risks to plunge the whole country into a worst state for the early part of 2021 which would be a disaster.
Big Jo and Jolene will be operating from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily serving lots of easy, popular food and drinks items including pastries, bread, sandwiches and pizza as well as coffee and wine. Westerns Laundry will turn into a covered outside farmers market in the heart of Highbury serving everything you would expect from Jolene and Big Jo with added vegetable box from Flourish farm, cheese, perhaps meat and fish from Swaledale Foods and Flying Fish too (the latter TBC).
Missy Flynn, Rita’s
Flynn and Pryce announced the closure of Bodega Rita’s in King’s Cross in July. The duo took the keys to a new site in Soho in September, and were in the early stages of getting it ready for an initial opening when the government announced the new lockdown.
We did sort of expect it, yes. We’ve done a lot of negotiating this year and based our long terms plans on the possibility that the road ahead would be bumpy and include a series of lockdowns. We were planing on bringing our team back this week and opening our new site as a pop up / wine shop, that in itself was part of the preparation — we were never planning on opening it as a restaurant this year.
We’re in the position where we have been quietly putting things into place so that we can press play if and when it’s right to. That said, there are bills that will need to be paid soon and to do that we need to start making some revenue. We weren’t open in the first lockdown, we’ve been so impressed and inspired by watching other people pivot so gracefully to alternative revenue streams and adopting tech in really interesting ways. Whilst we have done a but of wine and deli delivery we haven’t been selling prepared food. Instead we’ve learnt a lot about our business internally, understood our limitations and become more aware of the pros and cons to adding new facets to the business as a survival reflex. You realise some things cost more than the value they bring.
What we need? A fucking plan!! Rent relief would save a LOT of businesses. I don’t hold my breath but leaving this to landlords is a dangerous game. We’ve been fortunate so far in that we have a clear and direct line of communication with our current landlord but some people are being treated appallingly and the government needs to intervene.
Right now, the plumbers are in our new site till Wednesday so we have to be in and out of there. We have a couple of wine tastings booked in which would be a shame to cancel. Other than that, just maintaining contact with our team, bottling hot sauce and watching movies. Gabe’s thinking about slinging some Mac and cheese deliveries around town if anyone is interested.