Pubs, restaurants and other indoor hospitality venues in England have finally been given the go-ahead to welcome customers back, but small business owners say they are disappointed with the handling of their livelihoods.
After telling restaurants, pubs and cafes to shut their doors at short notice just before the Mother’s Day weekend, the Government has given them a bit more warning that they can reopen.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday that they would be able to reopen in ten days on 4 July, albeit with safety guidelines in place such as table service and reduced staff.
But despite the easing of restrictions – which includes a reduction of the two-metre distancing rule – those we spoke to said they are not ready to fully open their doors or get close to business as it once was.
Seven Dials Market will not reopen on 4 July due to reduced footfall in central London
On 20 March, all pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes were asked to shut in order to stop the spread of coronavirus, before the nationwide lockdown was suddenly implemented just three days later.
Simon Mitchell, chief executive officer at KERB Food, which runs the hugely popular Seven Dials Market, in London’s Covent Garden, said when the announcement was made in March, the business ‘fell through overnight’.
‘Seven Dials is the biggest food hall in London. It requires a lot of electricity, staff and security so running costs are huge. We couldn’t justify staying open,’ he said.
Simon Mitchell of KERB food said he cannot justify opening his food markets just yet
Unfortunately, despite the latest developments, Simon believes it is still not worth re-opening KERB venues as footfall in central London remains dramatically low.
‘Obviously we welcome the news, however the biggest issue we now face is that there are no people in central London.
‘While the advice is to work from home and not use the tube, while the congestion charge runs into evenings and weekends and while tourists are not welcome – I can’t see how we can open as the demand just isn’t there.
‘Our city-based lunch markets could have opened weeks ago, but there hasn’t been the footfall to justify doing so.’
Simon said he does not plan to open Seven Dials Market until the Government can reassure people it is safe to go out and safe to use the tube.
The company has been unable to make use of running a delivery service due to its location – which would be considered prime in normal circumstances.
He added: ‘We are not doing deliveries because the cost of opening the building is so great.
‘Also central London isn’t the best for food deliveries – you’d get more luck in zone two.’
Instead, KERB has been running the Keep the Wheels Turning campaign to support its traders by selling food vouchers and relaunch party tickets to be used when they reopen, providing practical guides on how to navigate the current situation and promoting their services to be used by others.
KERB food’s markets in West India Quay, London, will also remain closed due to low footfall
Meanwhile, Oliver Milenkovic, owner of Ollie’s Café in Somerset, feels let down by the Government and the way the closure and now reopening of the hospitality industry has been handled.
He said: ‘I was disappointed by the way we were forced to shut down so suddenly, and on a Friday and just before a busy Mother’s Day, so we couldn’t cancel our weekend orders which went to waste.
We were forced to shut down so suddenly… and just before a busy Mother’s Day, so we couldn’t cancel our weekend orders which went to waste
‘Had the Government made the announcement on a Monday, people would have stopped ordering. It was a surprise. Yes, things were turning quiet but a lot of us were managing it quite well. The leisure and hospitality really took the brunt.
‘Now we are planning to open on the 4 July as announced but again, I feel the Government could have given us more notice.
‘We have spent the time doing a full internal refit so feel prepared in that sense but we don’t know if our suppliers will be able to get themselves ready to fully supply us for when we do open.’
Damian Wawrzyniak, owner and head chef of fine dining restaurant House of Feasts near Peterborough, is also reluctant to reopen his business as it once was.
His was one of the first eateries to introduce a delivery service in the area, as footfall had already started to reduce as fears around the coronavirus heightened in February.
Chef Damian Wawrzyniak said he will change the usually fine dining experience of his restaurant into a pub-style atmosphere
‘Upon reopening on 4 July, we will focus on our garden dining and heavily reduced restaurant service of breakfast, brunch and lunch.
‘The delicatessen and collection service, which we only introduced in response to the pandemic will remain in operation.
‘We will also change our restaurant experience to a more pub or deli style one with a wider variety of real ales, a large beer garden and classic dishes, cooked slow but served fast.
‘However, we have decided to open only for day trading until end of the year between 8am and 5pm. Once the situation becomes more relaxed, we will reconsidering reopening for dinner too, hopefully by 2021’.
Damian also started running online tutorials for his popular sourdough bread, which have been a success to date.
‘Independent restaurants like mine can’t count on Government support to survive so I had to set a plan into motion early on.
‘I furloughed all my staff but stayed in the kitchen alone for some time, cooking Sunday roasts for collection only and baking our signature sourdough bread.’
He also started taking orders for sourdough starter packs from across the world and has been running online tutorials so customers can make the famous bake from their homes.
‘This will be something we will continue even after lockdown. Baking bread has been keeping us alive,’ he added.
House of Feasts signature sourdough bread has been a hit throughout lockdown
Commenting on the news, Emma Jones, founder of small business support network Enterprise Nation, said: ‘This announcement has come just in the nick of time for many large and small hospitality firms alike.
‘While some of the elements of the guidelines will be a challenge for small firms to meet, such as name collection and table service, there is no doubt that the nation can once again look forward to safe socialising very soon.
‘The pandemic has unequivocally demonstrated that the hospitality industry is central to the British economy – and a safe, gradual and successful re-opening will be critical to recovery.’
Meanwhile, social distancing guidelines have been relaxed, with the two meter rule still being in place where possible but with the introduction of a ‘one metre plus’ rule.
A spokesperson from restaurant, pub and bar operator Mitchells & Butlers, said: ‘We very much welcome the decision made by the Government to reduce the distancing guidelines in pubs and restaurants from two metres to one metre plus, and we await the full government guidance to be issued.’
Spotlight on health and safety
Business owners may still be concerned that they get their health and safety obligations absolutely right to protect employees and customers.
But with all this so new, corporate risk managers are struggling to understand where the law lies in relation to the new coronavirus requirements.
There remains a lot of grey area around how firms should manage health and safety in their workplace effectively – and legally.
Keith Morton is part of the health and safety team at Temple Garden Chambers
Keith Morton, a barrister within the health and safety team at Temple Garden Chambers, said: ‘The global pandemic has put a spotlight on health and safety.
‘It is more important than ever for businesses to be alert to the practical realities of managing health and safety in the workplace to avoid exposing themselves to compliance failure and the risk of prosecution.
‘Covid-19 has presented organisations with a new kind of health risk and so a “suitable and sufficient” risk assessment must be made as suffering serious harm or death from the virus is now a foreseeable risk to which we are all exposed in the course of work or using the services of others.
‘That risk cannot (yet) be eliminated, but it can be reduced. Reasonably practicable measures to achieve this will vary from one activity and organisation to another but there are likely to be common themes.
‘Employers must identify reasonably measures they can take to mitigate the risk of infection in the workplace such as the provision of personal protective equipment and adhering to social distancing.
‘Knowledge of how Covid-19 is transmitted and how to control it is evolving so it is essential that risk assessments are reviewed regularly.
‘Given the unprecedented and unusual times we are living in and the adjustments we are having to make, it is most likely that regulators will be lenient towards duty holders who have struggled to get to grips with the challenges presented by Covid-19.
‘However, the longer duty holders fail to implement reasonably practicable measures or heed government guidance, the more likely it is that enforcement action will be taken against offending organisations, with potentially very serious financial and reputational damage.’
Small Business Essentials
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