Kerridge: ‘Hospitality is being hung out to dry yet again’

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Owner opinion: 'Without any form of Government support, it's like closure by stealth,' says chef and pub operator Tom Kerridge
Owner opinion: 'Without any form of Government support, it's like closure by stealth,' says chef and pub operator Tom Kerridge

Related tags Tom kerridge Buckinghamshire Government Gastropub Food

Celebrity chef Tom Kerridge has revealed 654 cancellations at one of his sites to shine light on industry-wide problems caused by the UK Government’s “mixed messages” about the Omicron variant.

The owner of Marlow-based gastropubs including the Hand & Flowers posted on Instagram the venue had experienced the high number of cancellations over six days. 

The caption read: “And before some gammon faced idiot says 'you can afford it fat lad!' … yes I probably can, but this isn’t about me or my restaurants. It’s about our industry and people’s livelihoods.” 

Kerridge told The Morning Advertiser​: “This is a busy restaurant by a relatively well-known chef in a great location. Imagine what it's like for the little pubs. It’s happening up and down the country everywhere. The cancellations at my restaurant reflect the industry right now. Without any form of Government support, it's like closure by stealth.”  

For Kerridge, the “very confusing” Government advice concerning the Omicron variant meant bookings were haemorrhaged across the industry. 

Different messages

He said: “You have to put a mask on to go into a shop to buy a T-shirt, but you can go into a pub and drink a pint of beer and watch football without a mask; they're two very different messages. 

“It's very difficult for people working in the industry to say ‘it's amazing, come and visit us’ when everyone else has been told to work from home by the Government.” 

This was worsened by the ongoing scandals shining light on Government officials’ parties last Christmas: “None of it gives any form of strength or understanding as to what’s going on,” said Kerridge. 

He continued: “It feels like they're saying, in a backhanded way, ‘don't go to pubs and restaurants’, but they can’t actually say that because the moment they say ‘please don't visit those places’ they have to compensate, and that’s what they’re trying to avoid. 

“It feels like the hospitality industry is being hung out to dry yet again, because it’s just receiving guidance rather than some form of mandatory decision.” 

The Michelin-starred chef said a lockdown where the hospitality industry was 100% supported was preferable to the current situation, especially due to the “absolutely colossal” debts amassed by companies just to survive.  

Last year when it was mandatory pubs and restaurants shut, there was a form of support through furlough schemes, the reduction in VAT and help in business rates relief coming through. 

Difficult and tricky time

Yet now, there is not that same support. Since last year, the VAT has risen, there’s an ongoing increase in terms of utility bills, staff wages; minimum wage has gone up, and there's a huge amount of costs that have turned up in the business. On top of that, venues are now losing customers due to huge amounts of cancellations. 

The Government could help hospitality through reintroducing a reduced VAT rate, revisiting the furlough scheme and providing compensation, according to Kerridge. 

Many operators rely on December to be the pivotal point of their survival, said Kerridge. If 50% of that revenue disappears, it can make a big difference to whether these businesses will be able to reopen again in the new year. 

“It feels like January to February is going to be a very difficult and tricky time for operators to manoeuvre through,” he said. 

He added: “You need to support your local, whether it’s a pub, restaurant or coffee shop, as there’s no help from Government.  

“It may get to the point where the owner may just give up. They will go ‘running this place is completely pointless, we’re losing money hand over fist’. When the owners start giving up, and those places disappear, it will be the general public that miss out.” 

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