When French president Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday 13th April that the country would start to lift lockdown restrictions on 11th May, with nurseries, schools and colleges to be “progressively opened” as a priority, it offered a glimmer of hope for many that life across Europe might soon return to some sort of normality.
Yet for those in the hospitality industry, Macron’s comments offered little promise, with the president stating that restaurants, cafes and hotels would stay closed for much longer, with none expected to open in the country before mid-July at the earliest.
In the UK, which is a few weeks behind France in terms of lockdown measures, a reopening date of August – if the UK Government were to follow France’s reopening lead time – could have devastating consequences for many operators. However, the French approach is not the only option available to the UK and other Coronavirus-hit countries have taken different stances as to when to reopen hospitality businesses.
We spoke to UFS Executive Chef representatives from Spain, China and North America to get their perspective on what’s happening – and what might happen in the near future.
“Restaurants and bars are currently dealing with the doubt of how and when their businesses will open and under what legislation. One thing seems certain - that hotels who focus on tourists will not recover this year, so they are starting to plan for the summer of 2021.” – Peio Cruz
“Following the relaxation of the rules, I have been out visiting customers around China and although restaurants are reopening, they are doing this cautiously. Customers temperatures are being checked at the door, there’s a ban on large groups and more spaced out seating is all having an impact on trade.” – Shiqi Xu
“Just like the rest of the world, the industry has been hit hard. Many restaurants have had to close fully, some pivoting to delivery/take out or operating as grocery stores. Some of the existing take away operations like pizza deliveries have seen only a small drop in business (7-8%) whereas normal restaurants have had closer to a 70% drop off in revenue – if not closed completely. This crisis has brought to the table a key discussion of what our industry should look like in the aftermath of Covid: we can we use this situation to push a reset button and bring sustainability and making the industry more attractive to Chefs, investors and consumers alike to the fore.” - Einav Gefen
Elsewhere, both Denmark and Austria are planning to allow restaurants to open in mid-May, although both countries haven’t been as badly hit by the pandemic as the likes of the UK, Italy, Spain and France.
Of course it still remains extremely difficult to predict when restaurants will be allowed to re-open in the UK and what restrictions may need to be put in place when they do. Some businesses are already thinking about when they may be able to reopen; for instance The Restaurant Group (TRG) said that a ‘pessimistic’ scenario could see some of its restaurants start to reopen by July, with 400-600 of its sites operational by December.
Businesses are also starting to consider what a post lockdown hospitality sector could look like in terms of social distancing restrictions that may need to be adhered to.
Chef and restaurateur Jason Atherton says his restaurant business The Social Company has been looking at potential aspects of running a restaurant in a post lockdown environment, which might require some form of social distancing: “We are putting plans in place ready for social distancing in case that happens inside restaurants, how we’re going to serve guests and then stand back and explain the food, and how we are going to serve wine from one and a half metres away,” he says. “There’s a million things that will hit you hard if you don’t try and get on top of things now.”
What is painfully clear is that a lot is riding on the Government’s decision on when to reopen the country. If the hospitality sector remains closed for too long, many restaurant businesses will fail to reopen. Yet if the lifting of the lockdown is too hasty, and future lockdowns are required, it could exacerbate what is already a terrible situation.