Hospitality's last hurrah: On the ground for the eve of lockdown 2.0

Jennie Milsom

05 November 2020

As the country braced last night for lockdown 2.0, operators across the capital tried to remain optimistic about the tough month ahead. Jennie Milsom crawled the streets

While operators faced the task of mothballing their venues again, for many there was a small positive shift: unlike the eve of March’s lockdown, last night revellers were out in force.

By 6pm, Bar Américain at Brasserie Zédel was humming with couples clinking cocktails. Elsewhere across the capital, people descended on drinking dens of all sizes. While Wetherspoon peddled pints for a pound to use up stock, Michelle Hall, general manager at BrewDog Soho, said her priority was for customers to have a great night. Comparing this lockdown to March’s, she said: 'We’re definitely a lot more organised this time. We’ve had more time to plan for it – only a few days but definitely better than a few hours.'

Mood among... staff ranged from 'okay about it, to quite anxious, to very annoyed'

Oisín Rogers, whose Guinea Grill and the Windmill pubs in Mayfair were also busy, fears for those 'on the brink' without proper support during lockdown. He said the mood among his 49 staff ranged from 'okay about it, to quite anxious, to very annoyed'.

He added: 'We’ve been happy to follow the rules since we were asked to close in March and we’ve complied fantastically and it feels very much that we’ve been scapegoated. It’s nice for us to have all of our tables full, however our business is geared up to be twice as busy.'

Xavier Rousset, who operates five venues including the Black Book in Soho, sensed that while Londoners enjoyed their final hours of freedom, staff morale was less buoyant. 'It’s been relentless – bad news after bad news. Staff are feeling it, they’re worried.' He added that this lockdown’s timing couldn’t be worse. 'November has historically been the best month of the year for us in London. It’s a massive blow – a double-whammy.'

November has historically been the best month of the year for us in London. It’s a massive blow – a double-whammy

Xavier Rousset

Similarly Charlie Gilkes, co-founder of the Inception Group, was devastated to be closing again but said his Mr Fogg’s' venues were busy. 'What’s interesting is that the night before the March lockdown, hospitality venues were empty whereas the night before this one they’re full. It shows the public are voting with their feet and feel safe,' he said. 'Taking away December’s trade would be even more devastating so it’s imperative we open in a Covid-safe manner then.'

In Covent Garden, wine bar Lady of the Grapes was expecting a full-house as manager Paolo Pascolo prepared to pivot to an off-licence and web shop during lockdown. As for Christmas trade, he is hesitant: 'I’m hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.'

Nearby, Adam Handling of Eve Bar said his venues were fully booked for those seeking 'a big last bender', however he expected lockdown would be extended by three weeks until the week before Christmas. 'I’m being realistic. We’ve prepared for it,' he shrugged. He is now turning his attention to the launch of a range of 'home-stirred cocktails', created in the bar’s bespoke lab, for nationwide delivery throughout lockdown.

Even I’m feeling much higher levels of anxiety now – it is really tough

Monica Berg

Similarly sceptical that lockdown would end fully in early December was Monica Berg, co-founder of Old Street’s Tayēr + Elementary, who said she wouldn’t be surprised if hospitality was shut until 2021. Like Rogers, she believed the hospitality and night-time industry had been scapegoated as 'the black sheep' of society.

She added: 'In some ways, the lockdown makes it easier to navigate than tier 2. At least now you have to close but you lose less money because of furlough and employees are safe. You’re still screwed though, with other overheads…'. She's planning on focussing on supporting her team during lockdown. 'Even I’m feeling much higher levels of anxiety now – it is really tough. Cities aren’t built to shut down.'

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