Coronavirus a ‘9/11 moment’ for hospitality sector

The coronavirus pandemic has been classed as a “9/11 moment” for the hospitality sector by the founder of London’s Vagabond Wines, who fears that the situation may worsen before it gets better.

Vagabond was founded by Stephen Finch 10 years ago and now comprises eight hybrid wine bars and shops

In a conversation with the drinks business last week, Stephen Finch, who started the eight-strong chain of hybrid wine bars and shops 10 years ago, expressed his belief that the impact of Covid-19 on the restaurant business was as great, if not greater, than the September 11 terrorist attacks that brought down the twin towers of Manhattan’s World Trade Centre.

“It’s definitely a 9/11 moment,” he said, “And probably even bigger for our sector, because at least then people came together physically at bars and restaurants, whereas now they are being told to keep apart.”

Finch, who is presently pursuing his insurers having been denied a ‘valid’ claim for Covid-19 losses, said that he also thinks that running a hospitality business may be harder after the lockdowns come to an end.

“We have close to zero revenue coming in during the lockdown, but we have managed to obtain concessions from landlords and support from the government,” he said, referring to UK help with business rates and paying staff, with Finch telling db that he had 120 employees currently furloughed.

However, once the lockdowns are no longer in place, such support will also come to an end, and while the trade is hopeful that customers will come back quickly, it’s also thought that business won’t bounce back to pre-coronavirus levels – in the UK at least.

“Social distancing will be the new norm for a while, so we will have a drastically reduced patronage,” he said.

“Our costs will go up [after the lockdown ends] but our revenue will not go up commensurately,” he added.

Concluding on this topic, he said that the on-trade in London did not have the “time or the cash to buy themselves the time” to adjust to his post-lockdown scenario, and as a result, he said, “there is definitely going to be a bloodbath.”

He also noted in a subsequent email sent exclusively to db, that the “talk about a vaccine is a red herring and counterproductive,” pointing out that “One won’t be ready at scale for 1-2 years.”

Consequently, he asked, “Do we really want spend our every day for the next year or so social distancing? 

Continuing he wrote, “We shouldn’t forget that the mortality rate for the coronavirus is a vanishingly small 0.1-0.3% for the non-old (55-60+) and non-vulnerable. The solution is not a vaccine but the much derided herd immunity.”

He explained, “The only reason for the lockdown for everyone was to avoid overwhelming the NHS. That’s now easing up and with everyone being more careful about behaviours and hygiene we can achieve a pre-crisis normalcy for the non-old and non-vulnerable. This segment certainly represents 95% of the demographic for most hospitality operators, particularly in London.”

Concluding, he noted, “We need that 95% to get the coronavirus, achieve herd immunity and be done with it. All while protecting the old and vulnerable. 

“I know it’s not popular and I’ll look like an insensitive jerk suggesting this, but it’s the lesser of two evils.”

Finally, further justifying his view, he stated, “Lives will be lost with a continued lockdown and a destroyed economy.”

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