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London hospitality industry 'devastated' as capital set to enter Tier 3

14 December 2020 by
London hospitality industry 'devastated' as capital set to enter Tier 3

Hospitality operators in London say moving the city into Tier 3 will be "devastating" for staff and businesses who face losing thousands of pounds around the crucial festive period.

From midnight on Wednesday morning (16 December) the capital will move into the highest level coronavirus restrictions, which means hospitality must close except for takeaway and delivery.

The south and west of Essex, including Basildon, Brentwood, Harlow, Epping Forest, Rochford, Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford, and the south of Hertfordshire will also move into the top tier.

People from these areas will be recommended to avoid travelling outside their area where possible, and will only be able to see friends and family they don't live with in outdoor spaces in line with the rule of six.

The government was due to review the tier system on Wednesday, however confirming the news in the House of Commons this afternoon, health secretary Matt Hancock said: "We must act now to shift the curve, because when the virus is growing exponentially there is not a moment to spare."

Nathan Evans, managing partner at Smith and Wollensky steakhouse in London's Covent Garden, told The Caterer that closing until January would see the business write off around £300,000 - £400,000 in lost revenue.

He said: "We're still paying rent and insurance and keeping the website going. The bills just keep stacking up and under Tier 3 there is no revenue."

The restaurant has seen good trading over the past week even with the Tier 2 restrictions, and was going to open on Christmas Day for the first time in five years with 135 people booked in.

Evans has already spent £20,000 on Covid-secure measures such as plastic screens and has lost around £15,000 worth of perishable stock in total over the lockdowns.

"Hairdressers and shops don't have to throw clothes away when they close. This will be the third time we've had to waste food," he added.

Emma Underwood, general manager at Darby's, tweeted: "Have worked in a restaurant over Christmas for the last 18 years. For me this is as devastating as not seeing family over this period. I'm so heartbroken for us all."

Asma Khan, owner of Darjeeling Express, also in Covent Garden, described it as the "height of mismanagement by the government".

Stuart Proctor, chief operating officer of the Stafford Collection, said it was "crushing" to have to close again.

"The only glimmer of hope for 2020 was a bit of Christmas trading in London so for that to be potentially removed is like the rug being pulled from under your feet again. We've got festive dishes and drinks ready to be served by staff who are desperate to be at work, it's cruel."

Scott McVittie, events director at Meanwhile Events which runs London's Skylight at Tobacco Dock, said the closure will be "devastating" for the business and its 57 staff.

He said the business had been nearly booked up for Christmas and the New Year, where the plan had been to have three sittings a day with separate New Year's Eve countdowns.

"The government has neglected to consider the start up and shut down costs to open and close. With an outdoor venue we can't just leave everything sitting there for three weeks until we come back. I think the government assumes it's like flicking a switch."

Marcos Fernandez, managing director or Arros QD and Iberica restaurants, added: "Christmas is the only chance for those restaurants that have managed survived to make the cash to get them through the rest of winter. We have, after a massive amount of work, to make it to the other side of the tunnel which we can't now even see until Boris speaks again. And they still talk hard Brexit?!"

Evans said that without more government help many hospitality businesses would struggle to survive through lockdown. Smith and Wollensky is still waiting on its initial £3,000 support grant from Westminster City Council.

"Furlough is great but without more direct business support there will be no jobs for people to go back to. I don't disagree with lockdowns, but there needs to more help for hospitality businesses to stay afloat."

He added that the UK government should consider following the example of Germany, where businesses that are forced to close will receive help paying up to 90% of costs, or up to €500,000 (£470,140) a month.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: "The government is cracking down on hospitality for an increase in the infection rates that occurred during a period when hospitality was forcibly closed. It makes no sense.

"So many pubs, restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels, having invested so much to make their venues safe, are only just clinging on by the skin of their teeth, but will be forced to take another huge hit. The burden of a region being moved into Tier 3 falls almost exclusively on hospitality businesses. It is an illogical tactic that fails to tackle Covid effectively but does push businesses closer towards failure.

"The government must re-think its strategy to combating the spread of Covid, including moving areas like Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham into Tier 2. Just continuing to batter hospitality is not the answer."

Hancock acknowledged that for businesses affected it will be "a significant blow" but said action was "absolutely essential" with average daily hospital admissions up 13% and average daily cases having risen 14% in the last week.

He added: "Until we can vaccinate enough vulnerable people and ensure they get the second dose so that they are protected, we must suppress this virus."

Photo: Flickr - UK Parliament

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