New research has found 90 per cent of independent restaurants face the risk of permanent closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The hospitality sector has been battered since the first national lockdown was implemented across the UK in March 2020, and it remains closed today.
Many have taken to introducing delivery and takeaway services or have pivoted by selling other products or home meal kits. But nothing can make up for the losses made by not having their doors physically open to the public.
90% of independent restaurants face the risk of permanent closure according to new research
According to the report, commissioned by food delivery service Gousto who surveyed 250 independent restaurants workers and 2,000 British adults, 97 per cent of restaurants have had to pivot and adapt to the changing times.
But this has still come with huge financial cost with 86 per cent having reported reduced profits.
Mother Clucker, a small chain of fried chicken restaurants in London, saw its annual turnover of £1.5million pre-Covid fall significantly to £340,000.
But as with most things during a time of crisis, the industry and consumers alike have got together to support the sector as best as it can through these challenging times.
This is Money wrote about the Seat at the Table campaign earlier this month, which is calling for an official Minister for Hospitality.
The petition to get the issue debated in parliament received more than the required 100,000 signatures and a number of MPs unanimously spoke in favour of increased support for the industry and a designated minister.
Lydia Rigby, one of the team behind the campaign, told This is Money: ‘Following the debate there was an Early Day Motion tabled for further support for the industry and a question on it posed directly to PM Boris Johnson.
‘Lord Caine also raised the issue in the House of Lords this week which was followed by support and supplementary questions from a number of cross-party peers.
‘We are currently digesting this information and strategising for the next stage. We are confident that as this has moved up the political agenda, Boris Johnson is able to see the huge benefits to the industry and more.
You can still sign the petition and show your support on their website.
‘Preserving’ the industry
Meanwhile home recipe kit delivery service Gousto has launched the Cookstarter campaign which asks the nation to nominate their favourite UK based independent eateries this week.
Five restaurants will then receive £10,000 worth of funding each, alongside a year-long programme of business coaching support, spanning finance, marketing, HR and product development from a dedicated team of mentors at Gousto.
Home recipe kit delivery service Gousto has launched the Cookstarter campaign which asks the nation to nominate their favourite UK based independent eateries this week
Gousto will also collaborate with the five winners to create new recipes inspired by their restaurants for customers to enjoy at home. Every time a subscriber orders a Cookstarter recipe, they will be able to ‘tip’ the restaurant’s team through the cashless tipping solution TiPJAR.
The campaign will go one step further to benefit the industry as a whole by encouraging Brits to donate to Hospitality Action, a charity that supports all workers in the UK hospitality industry.
Kathryn Huxtable, director of food at Gousto, said: ‘One of the best things about the UK is the variety, diversity and vibrancy of our amazing food culture and it’s so important that we rally together to preserve it.
‘We want mealtimes to be full of adventure and discovery, which is why we want to play our part to ensure independent restaurants can survive and thrive through these troubled times.’
Start-ups supporting the sector
Ironically, the fight to save the industry has also led to the the launch of completely new companies.
Brothers Harry and Lewis Slagel founded Plateaway after being furloughed last summer and noticing the trend in ‘DIY restaurant meal kits’.
These kits are a means for customers to try signature dishes from restaurants from across the country in the comfort of their own home and Plateaway is a centralised platform to see a range of options at once.
Brothers Harry and Lewis Slagel founded Plateaway last summer while on furlough
For a set cost, customers receive all of the ingredients along with guided instructions or a link to a video tutorial, to make their favourite dish themselves.
Olivia Marcus, head of marketing at Plateaway said meal kits have been particuarly useful for businesses in central London that had to shut down but it wasn’t practical to do deliveries or takeaways as most people live outside zone 1.
She said: ‘‘The platform allows you to order kits from separate restaurants in one checkout, and also provides one-minute long video guides on each kit, showing you how to make and plate these delicious dishes.’
Since launching in July 2020, with just six restaurants on their books, Plateaway has surpassed £200,000 in sales revenue and catered for more than 150,000 users. It is now partnered with more than 40 restaurants.
Olivia added: ‘As we are watching this new and exciting trend grow, it is only right that we serve our foodie community with the kits they deserve in the comfort of their own home.
‘Say goodbye to the days of measuring out ingredients or the disappointment of a soggy takeaway.’
The Meal Kit Company also operates a number of meal kit businesses including Italian brand Passo to Go but has plans to launch a spin off solely focused at families.
Founder Jonny Boud, who raised £150,000 to launch the business in April last year, said there is so much more fun to be had making dinner as a family. The team is also working on a ready-to-eat concept focused on nutritious meals for toddlers.
Make your next meal a DIY kit
Though the doors to our favourite restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars remain closed, many are doing what they can to stay on their feet from online cooking classes to deliveries and DIY meal kits.
The latest trend has allowed even the smallest of businesses to get through this challenging period so while you cannot order a meal kit on a whim like ordering a takeaway, doing so can help keep the hospitality sector alive.
This is Money spoke to a selection of restaurants about how the DIY meal kit phenomenon has helped them.
41-year-old Will Elner is founder of fresh pasta kitchen Bancone, with two sites in COvent Garden and Golden Square.
He launched ‘Bancone at Home’ as a lack of people in central London meant delivery or ready to eat takeaway wasn’t feasible during the pandemic.
Loyal Bacone customers have continued to support the brand and social media hype has helped to attract new ones.
Elner said: ‘It’s helped in a number of ways, largely keeping customer engagement with the brand. But it is no replacement for a full and buzzing restaurant.’
Dishoom’s famous bacon naan roll (and vegan sausage naan roll) can now be enjoyed at home
Meanwhile Kavi Thakrar, co-founder of one of London’s best-loved Indian restaurants, Dishoom, said navigating through the ‘storm of the pandemic’ with eight restaurants and 950 employees has been a challenge.
The business, known for its Iranian cafe style decor and queues down the road, was only an eat-in restaurant but introduced a delivery service during the first lockdown.
This was shortly followed by the Dishoom store, which saw its signature bacon naan rolls turned into meal kits to be enjoyed at home, along with bottled cocktails, the Dishoom cookery book and other gifts.
Kavi said: ‘We’ve emerged from 2020 somewhat frayed, but with very much to be grateful for.
‘To see our restaurants shuttered in March (and for much of last year!) was extremely difficult. We quickly turned our minds to finding ways of ensuring we could support the wellbeing of our teams and embraced those changes.’
To end on something sweet, Doughnut Time, also offers the full doughnut experience at home with its DIY kits, available for delivery nationwide.
Founder Thomas Anderson said: ‘The reaction has been amazing which at first saw new customers across the UK but has now stretched towards mainland Europe.
‘We are looking forward to the vaccine being rolled out and completed so we can get back to some level of normality and see friends and family again in social settings.’
…and what can the Government do?
Despite the number of schemes on offer for small businesses and some specifically for the hospitality sector, many have still slipped through the cracks or feel the support is just not good enough.
Brittany Bean, co-founder of Mother Clucker, had to temporarily shut seven out of eight sites last year and eventually, permanently close five by the end of 2020.
Residents outside London can now enjoy Mother Clucker’s signature dish at home
She said: ‘While I’m very grateful for the extension of the furlough scheme, the VAT reduction, business rates holiday and occasional grant funding, it isn’t enough to support an industry which ostensibly has been closed for nearly a year.
‘A staggering amount of jobs have been lost and a terrifying amount of money has been borrowed by businesses, and outside of publicly traded restaurant companies and venture funded brands, we can’t trade our way out of being closed for a year.
‘Nor should we be expected to. The lack of decisive action and clear targets and timelines has been devastating and the full effects are still to be seen.’
Like so many others, Mother Clucker has continued a takeaway service when and where possible and started their own ‘D-I-Fry kits last summer.
Brittany said the feedback has been really encouraging and the kits have provided a new, and very welcome, revenue stream while allowing customers outside Greater London to try the brand.
She added: ‘It also allows us to have steady income not dependent on government restrictions, commuters or tourists.’
Boud of The Meal Kit Company added: The stop start rollercoaster of being allowed to open then forced to close over and over by the Government as seen last year just isn’t a feasible way to profitably run a business.
‘There has been very little support in terms of grants for the slightly bigger restaurants and they’re still expecting them to be contributing to staff pay when they’re seeing no revenue at all.
‘The Government needs to extend the VAT and rates relief and only allow everyone to reopen when there is some certainty in trading conditions being close to normal without the risk of yet another closure.’
Small Business Essentials
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