Restaurant owners say: ‘Close and compensate us or let us get on with it’
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Restaurant owners say: ‘Close and compensate us or let us get on with it’

Louisa Walters finds out how eateries around London under Tier 2 restrictions are coping with reduced capacity, 10pm closing times and enforcing Covid rules

Louisa Walters is a features writer

A woman walks past a cafe after a range of new restrictions to combat the rise in coronavirus cases came into place
A woman walks past a cafe after a range of new restrictions to combat the rise in coronavirus cases came into place

The introduction of Tier 2 restrictions have this week plunged London’s struggling restaurant industry further into despair. Already having to contend with reduced capacity and 10pm closing times (robbing them of the chance of a second sitting), they now have to effectively play police officer, checking that everyone on the table is
from one household.

“We can only do so much – and managing sanitiser stations, one-way systems, screens, mask wearing, table spacing and getting everyone out by 10pm is plenty to be getting on with,” says Mitch Tillman of First Restaurant Group, which owns The Summerhouse and The Waterway in Maida Vale.

“How are we meant to police whether what customers tell us regarding their relationship with their dining partners is true?

“If they tell us they are from the same household, are we meant to get them to take a lie detector test?”

Mitchell Tillman

Jonny Krantz at Bluebelles in Mill Hill agrees. “We have had no guidance from the government on how to police the Tier 2 measures,” he says.

“I don’t have time to go around asking questions – I have a business to run. I worry about my staff. Who is going to pay their wages when our takings go down due to reduced custom?

“The ever-changing regulations are really hard to keep up with and everyone is confused. We are doing everything we can to keep going. We are planning a fun Halloween initiative for families, but our best efforts could be thwarted at a moment’s notice.”

Bluebelles

Rob Laub at The Bull in Highgate says even as the weather has turned colder, people have still wanted to eat outside, but he underestimated how much of an effect the Tier 2 announcement would have on inside bookings.

“It was noticeably empty inside this weekend,” he says. “Around 70 percent of our weekend bookings are family groups, but people are nervous to eat inside now.”

Shani Bajari at Amaretto says he has not seen 70 percent of his Edgware clientele since March.

“They are mainly older customers and they simply have not been coming back into the restaurant,” he says.

“One or two were just starting to venture in, but the new rules mean that they can’t, as we don’t have any outside tables, or they are nervous again.”

The Bull in Highgate

That said, he believes the government is doing the right thing. 

Tillman, however, disagrees. “It was evident when the 10pm closure time was announced that the government did not have an adviser from the hospitality sector.”

Who would advise that everyone leaves the premises at the same time, then goes to the Tube or waits for cabs at the same time, effectively forcing everyone together?

“It would have made far more sense to extend licensing hours to spread guest entering and exiting times and reduce the capacity per sitting in venues by taking away a few tables.

“Who is going to go into central London to have a great evening for the night to end at 10pm – and pay the congestion charge too?”

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The Waterway has a very large outside space, with seating spread across three terraces and gardens.

Waterway terrace

Tillman is adding more heating and a huge outdoor roof covering with side rain protection. At the Bull, Laub has erected an enormous awning that covers the entire terrace and has bought 10 patio heaters to keep everyone warm. There are also three cosy cabanas that seat six. 

Meanwhile, Cetin Kaygusuz at Melissa in Canons Park says the latest round of restrictions haven’t affected him.

“The industry has had enough of all these restrictions now – either close us down and compensate us or let us get on with it.”

“The restaurant is large, so we haven’t found it too hard to space out our tables or keep [to] Covid safe [guidelines]. We always closed at 11pm, so the 10pm closing has not hit us too hard. Lots of our customers come in family groups and the weekend was just as busy as normal.” 

The Summerhouse

Tillman and Krantz are vociferous in their disapproval of the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme. “Everywhere was busy, but even with premises being Covid safe, how could this not increase the infection rate?” asks  Tillman.

“Restaurants would have been better without this scheme – gradually, customers would have returned rather than all rush in together for a 50 percent discount.”

Krantz says: “Restaurants had to hire more staff to cope with the deluge in August and then, when it all died down, they couldn’t continue to pay them.

Restaurants would have been better without this scheme – gradually, customers would have returned rather than all rush in together for a 50 percent discount.

“I believe the money would have been better spent on helping people protect themselves and paying for their masks, vitamins, hand sanitisers and so on.

“The industry has had enough of all these restrictions now – either close us down and compensate us or let us get on with it.”

The Summerhouse

While some would argue the hospitality sector has received more help than others, Tillman believes it is justified.

“Indeed it has [received help], but that is because hospitality creates so many jobs and is partly responsible for making the UK so appealing for tourists, who come to our great cities for dining, historic pubs and wonderful hotel accommodation.

“It’s in our culture to go out and enjoy ourselves with our families and friends so, in my view, the government should throw everything at saving the hospitality sector.”

 

 

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