How restaurants cope with the wake of coronavirus?

Restaurants in the UK have faced an uncertain future in the wake of coronavirus. How do they adapt to cope with the difficult times?

After saying goodbye to the last staff, Alex Proud, the owner of the Proud Cabaret restaurant in London, emptied the kitchen ingredients, turned off all the lights, closed the door, and showed sadness on his face.

He drove home, after a last glance at the restaurant. On the way home, most pubs and restaurants were closed, and the road that was supposed to be overcrowded is no longer as usual.

Alex has no idea of when the lockdown restriction will be lifted and when to resume normal life, but he says, “We are obviously fine, while closed as next to zero over heads, the worry is what happens when we reopen, all costs will go back to normal, but revenue is half. If so, everyone will be bankrupt in months. So far, only innovation can work, and socialize is the point. But obviously, air filters, cleaning, staff health etc. are far more important and need to be marketed well…”

Empty streets during the first Saturday night in London after the government lockdown announcement. image: Rex Features

Alex is one of the restaurant owners who are struggle to survival if they do not have enough customers to support the high rent when they reopen. Since Boris Johnson announced lockdown measures on March 23, schools, pubs, restaurants, cafes, gyms and other businesses have been closed and safely lifting the lockdown poses a profound challenge to business.

Under this circumstance, sales of pub and restaurant groups have declined in the UK, which is a big blow to the British economy. According to the Statista, restaurant groups experienced the biggest fall in like-for-like sales in the week prior to the announcement at 21 percent, while bar sales dropped by 14 percent. And over the whole month of March, bar sales dropped by 60 percent and restaurants by 56.4 percent.

At the same time, the virus not only affected the economy, but also brought challenges to some employees working from home. Zachary works at a restaurant in a national hotel chain, which has been hit hard. The restaurant deals with hotels and big events, and now many of their customers have to work at home. It brought more stress to the staff who have children, because there is no way to keep their kids at home while working. “Me personally, I just feel more stress. Not only to be sane, keep my state calm but also to be truthful to everyone. Our safety measures are working, but every day is a crapshoot”, Zachary says.

Lockdown in London. images.Photo credit: Chris Smith of Acme VR.

However, for some people, they have taken action to quickly adapt to reality and enjoy life during this pandemic. Chef Wayne B Lyons, a seven-season champion, has worked in the food service industry for over 30 years, and at this time he is working as a relief chef. He says, “Given that I primarily worked for MCFC (Manchester City Football Club) & PNE (Preston North End Football Club), since the suspension of the football season in addition to the closure of restaurants schools etc., I as well as many other chefs are out of work.

“So I’ve been utilizing the time to concentrate on some chili sauces I developed, and I’m looking to start marketing them by fall. Many of my fellow chefs as well as myself have been spending a lot of time baking cooking and posting pictures on social media of some of their work. I think it’s a way of staying connected as well as doing something that we love.

“Although I’m concerned, I have to say I’m not worried about the future of our industry or our country. If nothing else, I believe in the human spirit and our drive as a species to survive and thrive. I will continue to work on my products as well as staying connected to family and friends.”

A deliveroo courier cycles through a deserted Piccadilly Circus. images: Rex Feature

Meanwhile, during the lockdown, many restaurants have revolutionized their new business models to adapt to the current situation and brought a positive impact on society. The biggest change has been restaurants reopening as takeaways and increased delivery, which provides another revenue stream for lots of restaurants in the UK. The Pizza Hut have reserved a number of key kitchens open to ensure the available of fresh food for essential workers, self-isolated people and the vulnerable groups.

They serve the community through contactless collection orders and via their delivery partners Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Just Eat, the profits will be going to the food donation partners, so far they have donated 300,000 meals to the NHS frontline. Neil Manhas, General Manager of Pizza Hut UK told the Metro, “Pizza Hut is committed to doing what is right during these difficult times and using our 700 Huts across the UK to make a difference. We’re proud of the compassion shown by our team members and franchisees and will continue to support them, our delivery network and communities across the UK during this time.”

Although delivery can help them overcome this period, the desire to return to normal is very strong. But due to the requirement of social distance and the safety concerns of some customers, the restaurant must consider providing a safe eating environment. At the same time, the employees’ health, cost management and food production costs need to be take into account, which makes it even harder for the restaurants to survive in the next few months.

And recently, thousands of businesses face a “cliff-edge scenario”, according to the latest figures published by the British Chambers of Commerce. Some directors of high street brands have asked chancellor Rishi Sunak for a nine-month rent holiday to help them survive the coronavirus crisis, and the London Union chief executive Jonathan Downey said, “This is a big idea that requires new legislation to enable businesses (commercial landlords and hospitality tenants), working together, to shape and create a national solution to the imminent threat of thousands of empty premises”, as the Caterer reported.

Therefore, in order to protect high street shops and other companies from aggressive rent collection and closure by the landlords, the UK government has introduced new measures on 23 April. And the Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, said, “In this exceptional time for the UK, it is vital that we ensure businesses are kept afloat so that they can continue to provide the jobs our economy needs beyond the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our unprecedented package of support can help commercial landlords, including through the recent expansion of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme.

“I know that like all businesses they are under pressure, but I would urge them to show forbearance to their tenants. I am also taking steps to ensure the minority of landlords using aggressive tactics to collect their rents can no longer do so while the COVID-19 emergency continues”, as GOV. UK released.

However, there are still many uncertainties about what will be faced in the future. Helen, a political theorist says, “I’m not sure that the majority of restaurants can be protected. They are part of a business model that COVID has rendered non-viable. As we’ve known, until such time as a mass vaccination is in-situ restaurants, they cannot be safe.”

Alex needs the nine month pledge from landlords, and he hopes that most people can go back to their old habits as soon as possible. He believes that if these wishes can be realized, then he can survive. When talking about the future, he says “Although bumpy ride ahead, but I am still confident.”