It’s been an extraordinarily tough few months in the hospitality world. During lockdown the country was in a spin, and uncertainty over the future forever loomed in a cloud.
We got some fantastic news and encouraging help from the government with the Eat out to Help Out scheme, which I know many businesses benefited from. Historically, before this initiative, I’ve always felt that the food and drink side of travel has never been fully supported or recognised historically from the government, especially given the amount of jobs and tourism it brings to the country.
Finally there was a boost. It was great to customers eating out comfortably again – yes, there were rigid rules but this surely gave people confidence that life could return to normality in some sense.
But now the thoughtfulness has gone, and restaurants and bars have been dished up with tricky new issues to deal with.
From today, all the customers need to have cleared their plates and downed their drinks by 10pm. This has thrown up all sorts of issues, and has seen myself and others in the industry busy on the phones calling diners – some who have booked months in advance – to tell them they will need to vacate earlier than planned otherwise they will be lucky for dessert in a takeaway container.
As my fishing buddy and friend Robin Hutson, the man behind Limewood and The Pig hotels group, says: “Tiddlywinks and cockfighting aren’t and weren’t labelled as sports but a 300-capacity pub serving cheap booze are scooped up under the same umbrella as small restaurants with 60 covers and less”. How does this make sense? It seems pointless.
London will be hit hard. People who have planned a city break around the amazing places to eat and drink in the capital will cancel rather than rush through their long-await experiences at some of the country’s finest restaurants. Who knows if or when they will rebook.
And the owners, who have already had to revamp their operations in line with social distancing and other measures, will be left even more out of pocket. The poor staff serving you at your table? Less money due to less hours, and less chance for tips – especially if they are having to escort you out as the dining deadline looms.
All of this as we thought there could be a chance to claw back the lost revenue. Just as we were giving some confidence that it was safe to eat out, with the vast, vast majority of places strictly following the rules.
At the Oyster and Fish House, my newly opened restaurant in Lyme Regis, Dorset, we’ve already struggled with juggling tables, and have lost bookings for the ‘rule of six’. I’m glad we got through the summer before the 10pm rule came in – sitting by the beach eating seafood is one of the main reasons people visit, often travelling far for one night dining with us.
Why would you go to London to dine out if you have a bedtime like a child? Goodbye to the foodie tourist. I go to the city every week and I am shocked by what I’ve already seen: pubs, well-known restaurants that used to be busy, and hotels that still haven’t opened their doors. They may never open again – and these new rules could see even more disappear.