The novel coronavirus pandemic’s impact on London restaurants has made nearly every week of the last ten months feel like crunch time. Cycling in and out of lockdowns, with a mournfully buoyant summer of Eat Out to Help Out that, it turns out, might not have helped very much at all, there has been a persistent feeling of being on the precipice.
But it’s now, one month before chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget; two before many of the financial lifelines keeping businesses afloat expire; and three before the furlough that is keeping many restaurant workers in their jobs runs out, that feels more clutch than any other. Restaurants have got this far because of ingenuity and innovation, resilience and responsiveness, daring and, sometimes, dumb luck. Delivery and takeaway, meal kits and grocery deliveries have taken centre stage. They’ve also got this far because of government support — as much as they’ve been pushed closer to the brink by government stupidity. Many restaurants have not got this far at all.
The bind they are in now is tighter than ever. With the U.K. vaccination roll-out seemingly on schedule, there is increasing hope that a spring reopening with coronavirus restrictions in place will be followed by a summer somewhat, somehow, approaching normal trade. But the longer the government withholds news of financial support extensions that will get them to that reopening, the sooner restaurants will have to assume that those extensions aren’t coming. People will lose jobs. Doors will close permanently. And, after ten months of endurance, all that ingenuity and innovation, resilience and responsiveness, and financial support will have been for nothing. These stories show it all on full display; they also show how, without new measures, it will quickly fall moot. The clock has always been ticking. Now though, time really is running out.