Coronavirus: chefs and restaurateurs call for support beyond reopening

Further action essential to avoid mass unemployment in hospitality sector

Chefs Tom Kitchin and Nick Nairn

A GROUP of Scottish chefs and restaurateurs have outlined measures they say could prevent a “tidal wave of business closures and mass redundancies” in the hospitality sector following the coronavirus outbreak.

A letter to first minister Nicola Sturgeon – signed by Gordon Campbell Gray, owner of The Wee Hotel Company; chefs Tom Kitchin of The Kitchin Group, Nick Nairn of Nick’s on Henderson, Martin Wishart of Restaurant Martin Wishart, and Roy Brett of The Fishmarket Newhaven; Carina Contini, owner of Continis, The Scottish Cafe and Cannonball Restaurant & Bar; Dale Dewesbury, general manager of Restaurant Andrew Fairlie; Tom Lewis, owner of Mhor Collection; Stuart McCluskey of Bon Vivant Collection in Edinburgh; James Thomson, proprietor of Prestonfield House and The Witchery and The Tower; and Peter Lederer, chairman of Taste Communications – refers to the issues around social distancing measures in the hospitality trade and the long-term impact such measures could have if more support is not provided for businesses in Scotland.

In the letter, the chefs and restaurateurs call for the furlough scheme to be extended until early next year; a year-long rent holiday and the actioning of rent reductions for as long as social distancing is a requirement in venues; an extension of the business rates ‘holiday’ until June next year; the development of a Covid Quality Assurance Scheme to communicate the safety measures taken by the trade to protect customers; a fund for businesses to recoup the loss of income from overseas travellers; and a VAT reduction for businesses which will cover the period from when trade resumes until mid-2022.

“We must thank you for what you have done so far,” the letter states.

“You have prioritised the public health of Scotland and we recognise nothing is more important than that. Alongside the UK Government, the furlough scheme and the loans and support on offer represent a lifeline to businesses impacted by the lockdown, avoiding immediate job losses and business collapses.

“However, the road maps emerging to allow the nation to unlock present us with real concern about our long-term future.

“Put very simply, social distancing simply does not work in most restaurants, bars and hotels. People visit to enjoy a memorable experience with a high level of service and personal interaction, and this could never be achieved if staff had to maintain strict social distancing and wear PPE.

“Hospitality already operates on a high cost base. In recent years we have faced additional spending including rent hikes, increased food and beverage costs, the new National Living Wage and higher business rates.

“Social distancing will result in revenue drops that will make most businesses unsustainable. There is also worrying evidence suggesting many people don’t feel it is safe to eat out and will avoid visiting us even after lockdown is lifted.

“We are desperate to be back in business, employing people, supporting our world class producers and suppliers, paying taxes and enhancing Scotland’s worldwide reputation for food, drink and hospitality but we can only do this with your support.”