2020 will live long in the memory for London’s restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars — for those who work in them, and for those who frequent them.
This is not just because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and its impact on the city’s restaurant world — the closures, the lockdowns, the jobs and lives lost and the livelihoods turned upside down. Look beneath its immediate damage, and it’s possible to see fault lines that have existed for decades opened up to gaping chasms.
London’s restaurants have always been materially connected to everything else that drives the city; the labour market, the property market, tourism and business. But dining out so often fulfils a need of leisure, or of escapism from those realities, that that connection is largely forgotten about. 2020 didn’t let diners forget it, from first to last, with restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars all subject to furlough, to rent and eviction protections that will soon expire, to business rate holidays and to VAT cuts that changed their futures. Ultimately, 2020 left restaurants in an existential crisis — what it means to be a restaurant, and to not just exist but to thrive and survive, came into question time and again.
This was a year that changed dining out in London forever, and this is a review of that year, that tries to make sense of its consequences not just now, but into the future.