Retailers and restaurants enter a very different landscape

The Ledbury

As non-essential retailers reopen their stores for the first time in three months they return to a very different environment to the one they left when lockdown was enforced.

Over the coming weeks they will realise that some elements of their operations will be changed indefinitely and there will unfortunately be some casualties as a result. An even harsher scenario is being played out in the hospitality sector where ahead of the restaurant and bar industry officially reopening on July 4 there have already been some high profile casualties.

These centre on some of the most accomplished establishments. They have come to the conclusion that not only would a two–metre social distancing rule be too harsh for their business models but even a one-metre requirement would contribute to creating an environment that they regard as unworkable.

Two-Michelin starred The Ledbury is among those to announce it will not be opening for the foreseeable future and that all its employees have entered into a redundancy consultation period. Chef and owner Brett Graham has stated: “This little restaurant with 50 covers can’t operate with even one-metre distancing. You couldn’t get through reception, go to the toilet, work in the kitchen or make coffee. One metre is completely unworkable.”

Another Michelin-star restaurant Texture also announced that it would not be opening again, and was followed this week by news that the long-standing and iconic Le Caprice would not reopen after serving customers for 38 years.   

Le Caprice

High profile chef Marcus Wareing has also indicated that his three London restaurants might not all survive Covid-19. This view is compounded by a survey he undertook that revealed more than a third of diners plan to spend less in restaurants after lockdown.

For those intending to continue trading their award-winning restaurants there is a realisation that massive changes are inevitable. James Lowe, co-founder of Lyle’s and Flor, recently opened a pizza joint on the ground floor of Flor and believes it will continue to occupy the space once lockdown is lifted because the space is unworkable as Flor (with its 23 seats on the ground floor) with any social distancing in place.

His move followed that of Copenhagen-based Noma – voted the world’s best restaurant on multiple occasions – which has switched from operating as a multi-course Michelin-star eaterie to instead becoming a burger and wine bar set up in the garden of the restaurant. This lower-key proposition will continue until further notice.

The one conclusion we can draw from this is that the restaurant industry at all levels is feeling the devastating effects of Covid-19. Retailers that opened their doors this week and found a challenging landscape will no doubt have some sympathy.

Glynn Davis, editor, Retail Insider