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Restaurant operators in Wales on 'razor's edge' as only half open their doors

14 July 2020 by

Only half of all hospitality operators in Wales reopened on Monday despite the official go-ahead for outdoor hospitality, the Welsh Independent Restaurant Collective (WIRC) has said.

Simon Wright, who runs WIRC and café and food store Wright's Food Emporium in Carmarthen, told The Caterer that the opportunities for trading were "very limited" for many due to a lack of outdoor space and the Welsh weather.

According to Wright (pictured), many operators had decided to delay reopening on Monday because of the expense of getting in staff and food, and the unpredictability of the weather, particularly as on Monday it had "hammered it down".

He said many operators had decided to wait until the provisional reopening date of 3 August for indoor hospitality.

While Wright had chosen not to reopen on Monday, he plans to reopen on Thursday with a short set-lunch menu from Thursday to Sunday, for "a limited amount of people in a covered area, if the weather isn't too atrocious".

Instead of Wright's normal covers of 300-400 a day in the summer, he anticipates serving 30, saying: "We're treating it as a new business."

However, he has wider concerns about the hospitality industry in Wales as a whole, saying that the delay behind England would continue to have significant financial consequences.

"With Wales opening that much later than everyone else, it has worsened the financial gap, clearly. We're not questioning the health and the science behind the decision, we're trying to stress the financial gap."

A recent survey carried out by WIRC, which was formed only four weeks ago, showed that of the 50% who had planned to open on Monday, most anticipated takings of less than 25% of their usual turnover, severely affecting their chance of breaking even, let alone making a profit.

Only 20% of hospitality businesses anticipated they would "definitely be trading" during Easter 2021. "So we are looking at huge loss," said Wright.

The WIRC survey of 100 independent businesses across Wales also indicated that around 15,000 jobs in the industry in Wales had already gone, a figure that was set to double, despite indoor hospitality due to open next month.

According to WIRC, the restaurant industry in Wales accounts for 135,000 primary and secondary jobs, often in communities where there is very little alternative employment.

Wright said: "We need to make sure independents are around for the recovery as by our very nature we spend far more with local producers, so we're essential to the ecosystem and to the producers in Wales.

"We're part of what is the foundation of the economy. The money goes back into the economy and it's been a marginal business for a long time. We don't have loads of cash reserves to burn; it really is a razor's edge for many businesses being hand-to-mouth for a while."

Tommy Heaney, chef-patron of Heaneys in Pontcanna said he was potentially looking at opening the outside seating area from next Tuesday but would not be reopening indoors until "something is set in stone".

He told The Caterer: "We are putting a tent in the car park and we'll be taking bookings. I see weatherproofing as being the only option."

Heaney said he was trying to remain positive about the challenges around operating outdoors, saying that installing a tent-like covering mitigated any weather disruption to guests. "Today is looking a bit brighter and so is the weekend. But if you have a week of hot weather... What goes up must come down!"

He is changing his restaurant to an oyster and wine bar concept and said he had "nailed down" a supplier for oysters from Carlingford in Ireland for a new menu that included cold and warm plates such as mussels, charcuterie and a whole lemon sole and brown shrimp butter.

"There's no frills. We are looking at this as an opportunity to relaunch and I'm trying to be positive from the start."

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