Generally in the run-up to Christmas my restaurants are full of high spirits and letting go, people enjoying themselves with their friends and ordering a more expensive bottle of wine. But this week it all suddenly changed. In one of my restaurants over the last week there have been over 650 cancellations in six days. I made a video about it that had over a million views.
If that’s happening in a big restaurant, imagine what is happening to the small ones which are reliant on Christmas. Undoubtedly many will go under. There is a huge debt burden that has accumulated. Not operating at 100 per cent will make a big difference to businesses, some of which will close their doors now and probably not reopen.
On Monday, I had a three-hour conversation with my marketing and branding team and a photoshoot. At the minute morale here is OK — staff are looking forward to Christmas and want to make sure everyone has a good time. There is a fear, though, that there will be no message coming from government that it is going to help. It feels like you get one message from the chief scientific adviser and another from Boris. There is a huge amount of distrust of the people in charge and it leaves hospitality exposed.
On Tuesday, I took my son to school and did a radio interview talking about our Marcus Rashford Full Time Meals campaign. Marcus challenged me to come up with a recipe that could feed six people for £10 at Christmas, with donations supporting FareShare.
I did dinner service at Kerridge’s Bar and Grill, which means I’m in the kitchen making sure everything is OK and being part of the team. Up until the last few days we were feeling comfortable and confident about the future and New Year; now the bookings have dried up for January.
The next morning we had our weekly meeting with senior management. It was the school nativity in the afternoon and I got my booster jab. My hope is that the Government will announce a plan — something needs to be done for the hospitality industry: reduction of VAT, return of furlough. Wages have gone up this year and we all know about utility bills being so high. Businesses are left with crippling debts. If you are then 50 per cent down on revenue that makes a catastrophic difference to many businesses. There isn’t anything we can do to adapt at this short notice. The Government needs to step in and help. We are at its mercy.
The cancelled bookings reached their peak but seem to have levelled off.
London bounced back very well after previous lockdowns and was strong when we reopened again, there was a huge uplift. We appear to be bucking the trend with the staffing crisis too. A lot of restaurants are suffering but some of our staff have been with us for a very long time and built incredible teams. Everyone is colleagues and friends — we are gelled as a group.
The pandemic has been disastrous, of course. There is a huge amount of debt through every business, including mine. But there have been some silver linings: we had the chance to set up the charity Meals from Marlow, feeding key workers, and of course there is the Marcus Rashford campaign. I’m proud of what we have done.