Head chef James Allock took to Twitter to call last Saturday (3 June) the “worst Saturday ever”, and stated, “dining out is dying”. The East Yorkshire-based bistro and tapas bar has 18 advanced bookings for the coming weeks, versus a normal rate of 54 to 78.
“It’s ultimately down to [the fact that] most guests have got less money in their pockets after their bills,” Allcock told The Morning Advertiser. “It seems like even the ones that do are a bit more careful with it.”
The chef, who has previously cooked at Burnt Truffle and the Pipe and Glass, added: “Hospitality venues can deal with a loss in trade, they can deal with drops in business, but what they can’t deal with is increased costs, drops in business and the increase in fixed bills such as gas and electric.”
That was the storm the bistro was weathering at the minute, with 30% less people spending 20% less per person.
“There’s only so much cutting your cloth carefully as a business you can do,” Allcock added.
Wednesday (31 May), was a stronger trading day than Saturday at the restaurant. What’s more, it was a “really average” Wednesday, if not poor. “That’s never happened to me in seven years,” said the operator. “It was just the worst, beyond all measure.”
On top of this, the bistro was facing soaring costs. From his telephone bill to his electricity costs, to the price of produce – Allcock couldn’t name a bill that hadn’t shot up.
He also believed train strikes had impacted trade. On Friday 2 June, RMT members took industrial action, and Aslef train driver members followed suite on Saturday 3 June.
UKHospitality estimated that the recent swathe of rail strikes would cost the sector £132m, bringing the total eye-watering impact of the year-long industrial action to £3.25bn.
Beverley is a small market town, but Allcock said customers often travel in from neighbouring areas by train. “We noticed the drop in volume of people,” he said. Parking in the town was also a problem.
Speaking of the strikes, Allcock added: “It definitely affected me more than I ever really appreciated.”
He wasn't the only operator to struggle. Owner of Arch 13 Bar, Birmingham, expressed her deflation on Twitter after the worst Saturday bookings she'd ever seen.
The Euston Tap, central London, broadcasted their empty venue online, a stark contrast to the "full buzzing house" the pub generally became on match days.
Th vivid impact of train strikes. Normally 7 staff on a big match day and a full buzzing house. pic.twitter.com/CaCTpOmRja— Euston Tap (@eustontap) June 3, 2023
While he was a positive guy, the poor weekend trade worried Allcock. “There’s not a lot you can do about it,” he said. “When you’re faced with increased costs, you’ve got to pass some of those onto guests.”
May had been the worst May on record at the restaurant, with the three bank holidays proving a “disaster”. The fact that payday didn’t boost traded was a real shock to the system for Allcock, who would normally expect that period to be incredibly busy.
Looking to the future, he hoped customers may start spending money in hospitality venues when they saw a drop in their electricity bills at home. However, he was concerned that increased mortgages and the looming electricity costs of winter would mean this wouldn’t be the case.
“I genuinely don’t know what hospitality can do differently than it's already doing,” he said. “What the industry doesn't want is handouts, but what it does need is a fair trading platform.”
We have 18 advanced bookings for the coming weeks, as in tables not guests total. We normally sit around 54/78… dining out is dying— James Allcock (@jrmallcock) June 4, 2023
Covid debts were the “cherry on top of the cake”, added the chef. VAT tax on food also proved a “real challenge”. He hoped the Government would scrap this tax but believed this was a pipe dream.
Speaking of the swathe of pub and restaurant closures, Allcock added: “I can't understand why there's not more of a call to action and an urgency at government level to do something about this.”
The chef was met with an outpour of support on Twitter. His response to the messages was: "Feel like whilst it might come across as a negative angle and attitude that the amount of positive vibes and messages from people I really respect in the industry has kicked my head in the right direction. Don’t ever think I’m giving up. You’ll have to drag me out of Pig."