Top chefs across the country are calling for financial support including reduced VAT and a return of the furlough scheme after government warnings practically closed the hospitality sector in all but name.
Official advice that people should "think carefully" about socialising this festive period has resulted in hospitality businesses seeing a "catastrophic" number of cancellations, but the Treasury has not announced any further support for businesses.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is understood to be meeting with sector representatives today, but with multiple venues already forced into closing early for Christmas, for some it could be too late.
Mark Greenaway (pictured below), who runs Grazing by Mark Greenaway at Edinburgh's Waldorf Astoria and Pivot in London's Covent Garden, expressed his frustration about the lack of communication from the government.
He said: "Businesses out there depend on knowing what to do or what support will be available if restrictions are brought in. We want to know. We need to know. Until the government makes announcements, there's nothing we can do. We have to wait."
He added: "If restrictions are imposed, we need financial support and we can't be left out to dry. It's not fair on the industry. It doesn't just affect the waiters and the chefs; it affects the drivers, the packers, the telephone workers, the butchers, the bakers. There's a huge chain."
Pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants have already seen trade fall by a third and are expecting a further 22% drop in bookings for December. Nightclubs have fared even worse with revenue already down by a quarter. UKHospitality anticipates the sector could see a £4b fall in sales over Christmas, which should be its busiest time of year.
Paul Askew (pictured below), chef-patron of Liverpool's Art School, said his business had seen approximately 15%-20% no shows on some services.
"We don't experience that normally because we have a credit card policy where if you don't show up, you get a £25 charge. When you start losing 20 to 30 people in a private dinner booking and that happens three or four times a week, it's going to start affecting things quite dramatically," he said.
Like Greenaway, Askew urged the government to provide "some form of financial support package".
"Independent businesses like mine will need support particularly looking into January and February at a time when inflation is on the up, prices are increasing, and salaries have increased because of the staffing shortage."
He also believed that the chancellor's temporary, Covid-induced VAT cut from 20% to 5%, which increased to 12.5% from October, should be brought back "until things stabilise again". This is set to return to 20% in April.
He added: "We don't want to go with a begging bowl to anybody. But if they keep us open and people don't come anyway because they've been told to work from home, or they've been told to not socialise, then it doesn't matter what we do. It's incredibly hard to manage. You're between the devil and the deep blue sea."
Asma Khan (pictured main), who owns Darjeeling Express in London's Covent Garden, said all Christmas parties at the restaurant had been cancelled.
She said: "They should absolutely remove the plan to raise the VAT in the new year. We will not survive if that happens. If we are going to have a lockdown, they need to support by some kind of furlough scheme."
For Khan, it has been an unsettling experience of déjà vu, like in early March 2020 when people were discouraged from going to hospitality venues before they were ordered to close and no financial support had yet been announced for the industry.
"This will take us longer to recover [from]," said Khan. "We are already on our knees."
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