In the 48 hours following Boris Johnson’s speech last week, my restaurant saw 300 cancellations.
Lots of these included big events and Christmas parties, and amounted to a total of 1200 people. And the cancellations keep coming.
If things continue like this, there is no two ways about it: we will fold.
So when I saw Tom Kerridge say that restaurants will ‘crumble’ as a result of new Covid restrictions, I knew that my establishment was not alone.
I own the award-winning House of Feasts restaurant in Portsmouth, where I also work as head chef.
In normal times, we are fully booked and constantly turning down reservations – but the past 18 months has been anything but normal.
I hoped things were getting better; the other day, we were supposed to have a full house for lunch. Of the 62 people who were supposed to show up, only four did.
When this happens, we are left with tons of food that goes waste, as we cook to reservation numbers. It’s a huge loss.
To curb this, we have started offering free Christmas meals to homeless people over the festive period, which we also did last year when last minute restrictions were enforced.
I’m happy to do this as I do believe that throwing away food is a sin, however, this doesn’t help our profit margin.
Usually, we take in around £90,000 in December – it’s the biggest month of the year and I’ve been banking on this since summer. This year, we’ll be lucky to make £30-35,000. That’s a devastating loss of takings – but despite this, we haven’t laid off any staff throughout this whole pandemic.
January and February are always quiet months and the money you make in December usually keeps restaurants going. If we don’t have that, we’re in trouble. The current situation is not sustainable.
To add insult to injury, lots of restaurants all over the country are reporting a huge amount of no shows. Let me be clear: people doing this will cause businesses to fold.
We are fortunate in that we tend to get less no-shows than others, as we take credit card details, meaning that is a charge for people who cancel within less than 24 hours. However, we only take £5 per person, so it doesn’t really come close to making up for the loss of income.
And, upsettingly, we’ve experienced a rise in people giving us false card numbers, so when they don’t show up, we can’t even take the £5 cancellation fee.
These people obviously know that they might bail, otherwise why would you do that?
We do understand that people are scared and sometimes it’s out of your control – but all we ask for is some notice. Please, where you can, call ahead.
Otherwise, your favourite restaurant might not be there in January. That’s the reality.
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve had to diversify what we do in order to futureproof the business. We’ve got a mobile food truck so we can sell food at open air events. We’ve opened a bakery in the wine cellar, and we’ve started our online shop – which now makes up 40% of our income. Last year, we sold over 700 Christmas boxes online. We even started selling Christmas trees.
Without these extra methods of income, we wouldn’t have made it to 2021.
I also work as a business consultant and I have no doubt that there will be a huge number of business casualties in January and February. It isn’t just hospitality, it’s all small businesses. We are based in Peterborough and the town centre is dead – everyone is scared of what’s to come.
Hospitality, however, has been hit particularly hard. Of course, this isn’t just about my restaurant – it’s about the industry. And the Government needs to step up to help us.
The latest announcements are typical Boris Johnson. Nobody has a clue what they’re supposed to do. Because of the mixed messaging, people are scared to go out. But because it’s not against the rules, we get no help.
This uncertainty is killing businesses like mine.
What I would say to customers who are feeling torn about going out for dinner – we understand, but please show some empathy to the restaurants that you aren’t turning up to. We can’t survive it.
It also has a knock on effect on other businesses. We are small and family-owned, we don’t have investors, or backers. The money we make, we use to buy more produce for our diners – and all of the produce we use is local. If we go out of business, a bigger chain will come in – and I guarantee that they won’t be visiting the local farmer down the road to collect their produce.
What happens to them then?
Throughout this whole pandemic, we’ve put in safety measures to protect against the virus and we’re doing absolutely everything we can. All of our staff wear masks, we have sanitation stations, we have every single member of our workforce test three times a week – and we’ve never had a positive result yet.
We implemented these measures, even in the absence of advice from the government.
If customers are not sure if they’re going to want to eat out, maybe they could hold off booking until the day arrives and see if they can get a table then. Or walk in. Please don’t block up our booking system.
Because if we continue to lose this amount of bookings, there will be no restaurant next year.
You can find more information about House of Feasts here. Their address is 41 Crowland Road, PE67TP, EYE GREEN, Peterborough
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