London's congestion charge has had a severe impact on restaurants in or close to the charge zone, and 20% are considering closing their businesses as a result, claims a new report by the London Chamber of Commerce.
Some 78% of the 212 restaurants surveyed in June said customer numbers had fallen since the tariff came into force in February 2003. Around 54% felt the £5 charge was "all" or "mostly" to blame.
More than 80% of restaurants claimed the congestion charge had damaged their lunchtime trade, while 74% said it had hit their early evening/pre-theatre business.
"The decline in takings is disturbing because it comes at a time when the sector should have been emerging from the economic downturn in the early part of 2003," commented Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of London Chamber.
"During the last 16 months we have been hearing from restaurant owners who complain especially of the drop in lunchtime and pre-theatre trade. Many West End restaurants absolutely rely on covers at these times to help meet the enormous costs of being based in some of the most expensive real estate locations in the world."
Unsurprisingly, 79% of surveyed restaurants opposed the proposed expansion of the congestion charge into Kensington and Chelsea.
Almost two-thirds of restaurants believed a charge-free period during the day would help improve trade. The most popular time was between 11.30am and 2.30pm.
by Angela Frewin
Buy this week's Caterer magazine for more industry news and analysis