If 2020 was an earthquake for London’s restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars — for those who work in them, and for those who frequent them — then 2021 was the aftershock.
When reflecting on the end of last year, it was possible to look beneath its immediate damage to see fault lines that had existed for decades opened up to gaping chasms — staff, wages, supply chains, rents, and rates. And like its predecessor, 2021 saw the often-forgotten material connection between London’s restaurants and everything else in the city recognised more acutely. Yes, there were moments that felt like milestones: outdoor reopening in April; the return of indoor dining in May; the so-called “freedom day” of 19 July. But for every brand new dining room, there was a recalibration of an existing pivot; for every American fast food chain flexing its financial muscle, there was the quiet closure of a neighbourhood standby. Loans and stays of rent that were lifelines in 2020 necessarily gave way to repayments and resumptions in 2021, but spring and summer trade was more buoyant than expected.
And so restaurants and all connected to them enter 2022 still on shaky ground, but perhaps less shaky than they might have expected 12 months ago. Having been hit hard by uncertainty in 2020, they are now more accustomed to living within its parameters. This is how those parameters shaped them in 2021.