The co-founder of London's Kricket group of restaurants, tells Katherine Price how reopening will depend on both government restrictions and consumer confidence and why he's not yet assuming 2020 is a ‘lost year'
How hard has the coronavirus outbreak and lockdown hit the business? What is the situation with your restaurants and staff?
It doesn't get harder than this – it's an unprecedented and extraordinary situation. We closed all our restaurants on 17 March and have since ‘furloughed' 95% of staff under the government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). Our priorities now are the safety of our team and ensuring the survival of the Kricket group.
What changes do you think will need to be made to restaurants when they do reopen, for example, cleaning and social distancing? Would you reopen as soon as restrictions are lifted?
Much of this will depend on two things – government restrictions and consumer confidence. It's been suggested that we will need social distancing for the rest of the year – how that works in restaurants that have open kitchens, communal tables and sharing concepts, I have no idea.
Even if there were no government restrictions (which is unlikely), recent surveys suggest that a significant proportion of consumers would be uncomfortable returning to how things were.
It goes without saying that increased hygiene practices will be a top priority, along with welfare checks of staff and customers.
As things stand, it's impossible to say whether Kricket will reopen as soon as restrictions are lifted. A more likely scenario is a phased/stepped opening, supplemented with delivery. Without a doubt there will be increased levels of hygiene.
Do you foresee guests returning quickly once lockdown restrictions are lifted?
It will very much depend on location. We expect neighbourhood restaurants to be busier than sites in central London, which are dependant on tourism and office workers. That said, we expect business levels to be significantly lower than before and we don't expect them to return to pre-Covid levels for some time.
We expect neighbourhood restaurants to be busier than sites in central London, which are dependant on tourism and office workers
Do you need anything further from the government to ensure the business can survive and eventually reopen, and have you been able to access support easily and quickly enough? What steps are you taking to preserve the business?**
I must say I think the government has acted quickly and effectively in an unprecedented situation under enormous pressure. As a result of its legislation we have not made any redundancies.
That said, while the support has been good, there is much more needed for the industry as a whole. Jonathan Downey's proposal to the government for a nine-month #NationalRentFree period (combined with a matching debt repayment postponement to help protect landlords) would go a long way to preventing a bloodbath and the loss of up to two million jobs in the near future.
The key to our survival is reducing the material monthly cash burn that comes with zero income. We have welcomed the government's support through furlough, rates holidays and a grant, which we received for Brixton within 12 days of applying. We have also been supported by all of our landlords.
What is your outlook for 2020? Is it a ‘lost year'? What do you think the UK restaurant landscape will look like once the lockdown has been lifted?
It's too early to say if we've lost a year – as of now, I would say yes. However, we have seven months and a lot can happen. People get creative during downtime! One thing is for certain, there will be significant opportunities for those who survive.
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