Restaurants are reporting falls in takings of about 25% due to coronavirus, with the situation expected to get worse.
The chancellor announced a raft of measures aimed at providing a "bridge" to businesses yesterday, but it is not expected to help larger hospitality companies or those in the capital, with restaurateurs urging the public to keep supporting them.
Martin Williams, CEO of M Restaurants and Gaucho, told The Caterer: "It's very unhelpful that the government is saying don't socialise. We should take it seriously, but the media have made it the single narrative, which is scaring a lot of people. It's also scaring our staff who we're trying to reassure. I'm not sure they can be scared much more – first off they're scared of losing their jobs because of the immigration policy, now they're scared they're going to die.
"We have 19 restaurants and we're seeing a real hit in two demographics: the restaurants that rely on tourism and in the city with falls in groups and corporate events. Last week we were lucky as we had a strong weekend and ended up 6% down. This week it's serious double digit falls and we'll see where we finish up. Most people are seeing 20-25% and I think that's about right."
Nathan Evans, operations director of steak restaurant group, Smith and Wollensky told The Caterer: "Fundamentally we've lost £125,000 worth of events business in the next five weeks alone. We went from a very respectable 8% growth for January and February, to being 22% below 2019's numbers for March.
"The problem with restaurants is that while they are trading comfortably above breaking even you can generate quite a bit of cash, but when you start to drop below you can hemorrhage it by the same measure."
Encouraging people to continue eating out he added: "Restaurants are hygienic places anyway but we're cleaning every handle every 15-20 minutes. The best thing to do is not travel at peak times and go to a restaurant and spend some money."
Des Gunewardena, CEO of D&D London said the industry needed clear communication from government that would ensure the public make the "correct and proportionate adjustments to behaviour" without prompting "a disproportionate desertion of restaurants, cafes and bars".
He explained: "Last week our like-for-like revenues were down 7%, but we expect, based on our forward bookings and press coverage of coronavirus, that our revenue will fall more sharply over the next few weeks and are planning for that. The advice we are receiving is that coronavirus will peak at the end of April and that there will be a return to normal levels of trading through May, helped hopefully by some early summer sunshine."
It's not just in London that restaurants covers are dwindling. Heritage, Matt Gillan's Sussex restaurant yesterday tweeted: "We've had to close tomorrow night due to cancellations and we are looking at our quietest weekend since opening. Like many other restaurants we are growing increasingly nervous about the potential implications on business due to the coronavirus. Support your local independents."
Paul Foster, chef patron of one-Michelin-starred Salt in Stratford upon Avon and winner of the 2019 Newcomer Catey, yesterday evening said he had lost 28 covers over the next five days.
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