Hundreds of chefs, bartenders and business owners gathered in Westminster this morning (19 October) to protest the government’s handling of the global pandemic and call for more support for the hospitality industry.
People working across London’s dining sector brought their tools of the trade, from pots and pans to cocktail shakers and drip trays, to Parliament Square at 10:30am on Monday and made some noise to bring attention to their plight.
The protest was spearheaded by pressure group HospoDemo and led by Michelin-awarded chef Jason Atherton and Jillian MacLean, the founder and CEOof the Drake and Morgan restaurant group. Other prominent figures such as Fergus Henderson, the -owner of St John, and global rum ambassador Ian Burrell, also came out to support the cause. Henderson said restaurants need “practical things like funds” as opposed to extended repayment periods on loans to get through the next few months.
The protest was launched in response to fresh restrictions the government announced for the sector last week in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus.
More than half of England has been placed under heightened lockdown restrictions this month since the government introduced a three tier system where regional restaurants are forced to close based on the local infection rate London, Essex and many parts of northern England have been placed in “Tier 2”, which prevents people from multiple households mixing in public venues. Pubs that can’t serve “substantial” meals districts around the north west such as Liverpool, Burnley and Lancaster have all been forced to close after the areas were put into Tier 3. The 10pm curfew, which has been widely criticised by bar owners and staff, still applies to all venues around the UK.
The new restrictions haven’t just affected bars and restaurants, but have had a “knock-on affect” in the drinks sector, Burrell told the drinks business.
“A lot of the places where I do talks or presentations have closed or staff have been laid off, and obviously the rum brands that I’ve been working with haven’t been selling in bars and restaurants and there’s no longer work for me,” Burrell told the drinks business.
“Then you have to think about those businesses that rely on bars being open. Taxi firms don’t get clients as well.”
Burrell echoed Atherton and MacLean’s calls for tangible financial support.
“The business rate holiday needs to be extended, and [the government] need to work with landlords as well, who are putting a lot of pressure on hospitality tenants.
“Then there’s the 10 o’clock curfew. There is no evidence that shows closing early will help prevent the virus spreading, but that takes away 70% of our trading in a day.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak introduced a new raft of support measures for businesses that will be affected by lockdown measures, but many at the protest said thousands of venues across the UK face collapse by Christmas without more.
Sunak announced a new “jobs support scheme” to subsidise the wages of people in work to replace the furlough scheme when it ends at the end of October. Businesses have the option of keeping staff in a job on shorter hours from November, rather than making them redundant. The government will also continue to subsidise workers’ wages, but to a much lesser extent than at the f=start of lockdown when the furlough scheme was introduced. Speaking to reporters today, MacClean said the industry is now on a “knife edge in terms of full closure for businesses”.
In a normal year, Josie is a freelance bartender and catering assistant who works various events from weddings to conferences, but the UK’s prolonged ban on large gatherings meant she can’t find work. She says she has seen first-hand how the Treasury’s support schemes for the hospitality sector are failing to protect workers without full-time contracts.
“The Eat Out to Help Out scheme just created a false economy”, she said. “Now, companies that were using it have been firing people again, and now [the government] is doing this. Basically our industry is ruined, especially for bars if we can’t work after 10pm.”
“I’ve lost all my work…I’m not eligible for a lot of the support because I do work freelance. A lot of us fall through the cracks.”