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The doors of Brasserie Zedel in Soho are open once more
The doors of Brasserie Zedel in Soho, open again
Ejatu Shaw/Eater London

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The London Restaurant Waiting Game, Explained

As indoor dining resumes, rent debt and new coronavirus variants refuse to go away

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The key questions faced by London restaurants in lockdown and its aftermath, answered with time frames for government decisions and the stated hopes of business owners and trade bodies.

This piece will constantly updated over the coming weeks as more information is made available.

Coronavirus lockdown in England

When will coronavirus lockdown end in England?

With restaurants reopened for outdoor dining and indoor dining, the lockdown is expected to meaningfully end on 21 June 2021, which is the date the government has set to lift “all legal limits on social contact.” That date is subject to change, with a review on its viability 7 days prior on 14 June.

Moro, on Exmouth Market. Central London restaurant closed because of the coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak
Moro, on Exmouth Market
Michaël Protin/Eater London

Reopening restaurants and pubs after coronavirus lockdown

Has the government set out a plan for reopening restaurants and pubs?

Yes. Under the current plan, outdoor hospitality reopened as scheduled on 12 April, with indoor hospitality returning on 17 May. Both reopenings are subject to restrictions, including social distancing and limits on how many people and / or households can meet. The rules for outdoor dining limit groups to 30, while indoor dining is limited to a maximum of six people from more than two households.

Could new coronavirus variants delay the reopening of restaurants and pubs?

Yes, and it’s currently likely that the Delta variant of Covid-19 will delay the planned “lifting of lockdown” on 21 June. While deaths and hospitalisations remain very low in England, cases are steadily rising, and government noises currently suggest the position is to delay even though its “four tests” on lifting lockdown are not currently compromised. At this stage, a two week delay to 5 July looks most likely.

What would a delay caused by new coronavirus variants mean for restaurants and pubs?

A two-week delay, while continuing to compromise trading, would likely not be highly significant and would be protective for hospitality workers — one of the most-at-risk employment groups. A longer delay could be financially problematic.

Did all the restaurant and pub restrictions from previous lockdowns continue?

No. The government is phasing out restrictions nationally, rather than reverting to the tier system, which was based on cases in local areas. While the initial reopening of restaurants and pubs has again been restricted, previous coronavirus rules, like the 10 p.m. curfew and the rules requiring pubs to serve “substantial meals” with alcohol, have been scrapped.

But public health restrictions mean trade restrictions, and some form of financial support will be necessary until restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars can reopen fully.

The exterior of the Marksman pub on Hackney Road, closed during coronavirus lockdown
The Marksman gastropub on Hackney Road
Michaël Protin/Eater London

Coronavirus support for restaurants and pubs

What financial support is currently available to restaurants and pubs?

The main support programmes currently in place are business rates relief; the cut in the VAT rate from 20 percent to 5 percent; the rent moratorium which protects businesses from eviction; and the furlough scheme. The coronavirus business loan scheme and grants and local authority funding announced by Rishi Sunak at the start of this lockdown also remain open.

When are business rates relief and the VAT cut going to expire?

The VAT cut will remain at 5 percent until October, before going up to 12.5 percent for another six months, and then returning to 20 percent. The business rates relief will continue until June 2021, and then be discounted to 33.3 percent of pre-pandemic levels until March 2022, up to £2 million.

When is the furlough scheme going to end?

The furlough scheme currently ends on 30 September 2021.

When are eviction protections going to end?

The rent moratorium and associated protections currently end on 30 June 2021.

Lyle’s in Shoreditch, closed during the coronavirus lockdown in England
Lyle’s in Shoreditch
Michaël Protin/Eater London

The impact of coronavirus lockdown of restaurants and pubs

How has coronavirus and ensuing lockdowns affected employment in hospitality?

Employment figures throughout the pandemic have continually shown hospitality to be one of the worst-hit sectors. As of November 2020 — before the current lockdown — 600,000 hospitality jobs were furloughed, while nine months of 2020 between February and November saw 300,000 jobs, minimum, lost. An estimated 10,000 licensed businesses, again, likely at minimum, closed in 2020.

What are hospitality businesses most worried about right now?

Economically, rent; psychologically, it’s more complicated. With new financial support in place, there’s a growing belief that making it to reopening will be easier than ever — and the outdoor dining hurdle has been cleared — but that doesn’t mean it’s actually easy. Outdoor dining is limited by space and hampered by weather, and England’s spring is most famous for its showers.

Longer term, rent debt remains an existential threat for thousands of pubs, restaurants, cafes and bars, and even upon reopening it will be front of mind until the government meaningfully intervenes. Such an intervention now looks more likely, with a “call for evidence” saying that “if there is evidence that productive discussions between landlords and tenants are not taking place, and that this represents a substantial and ongoing threat to jobs and livelihoods, the government will not hesitate to intervene further.”