Please, Chan­cel­lor, can we have a lit­tle more help?

The Eat Out scheme has been a lifeline but serv­ing up a short-term rental boost would be a real boon

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business Comment - MARTIN WIL­LIAMS Martin Wil­liams is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Gau­cho and M Restau­rants. The opin­ions ex­pressed are per­sonal and do not rep­re­sent the Rare Restau­rants Group. In­sta­gram: @mar­t­in­williams32

There were too many medi­ocre restau­rants in Bri­tain, even be­fore Covid-19 came along, of­fer­ing nei­ther value to cus­tomers nor a par­tic­u­larly re­ward­ing work­place for staff.

It may sur­prise you to hear this from a restau­ra­teur, but it won’t be a bad thing to see such busi­nesses fall by the way­side. In­deed, many al­ready have.

How­ever, there will be a bright fu­ture for the gen­uinely innovative and in­spi­ra­tional mem­bers of our in­dus­try – so long as Rishi Su­nak, the Chan­cel­lor, can pro­vide a lit­tle more short-term as­sis­tance un­til the worst of the pan­demic has passed.

Au­gust’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme has been a great suc­cess, mak­ing restau­rants more ac­ces­si­ble to mil­lions of peo­ple. Many eater­ies, such as my own – Gau­cho and M Restau­rants – are now ex­tend­ing the scheme into Septem­ber at our own cost, of­fer­ing din­ers 50pc off up to £10 each on Mon­days, Tues­days and Wed­nes­days.

In my restau­rants alone, about 40,000 hun­gry guests have used the scheme, prov­ing the de­mand ex­ists to keep things go­ing.

Nonethe­less, there re­mains a con­sid­er­able void in some city cen­tres – par­tic­u­larly London’s West End and the Square Mile. Too many cor­po­ra­tions are dis­cour­ag­ing staff from re­turn­ing to the of­fice and the abyss of tourism re­mains a huge con­cern. It could be months un­til the sit­u­a­tion im­proves, and there is lit­tle point in the Gov­ern­ment back­ing the in­dus­try with Eat Out to Help Out, only to let it col­lapse in the months run­ning up to, hope­fully, the roll­out of a suc­cess­ful vac­cine.

The lease for­fei­ture mora­to­rium which pro­tected my sec­tor from over-ag­gres­sive land­lords for the past six months gave breath­ing space for ten­ants and land­lords to be­gin ne­go­ti­a­tions on cur­rent and fu­ture rental agree­ments. How­ever, nei­ther party seems able to af­ford to take a full hit on this “rent hang­over”.

When you see restau­rants packed with bar­gain-hunters on up­com­ing Mon­days to Wed­nes­days, it is easy to for­get what the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor has en­dured and, in­deed, is still to en­dure – an en­tire quar­ter of zero trad­ing re­ceipts, fol­lowed by fur­ther months of re­stricted and re­duced trad­ing, com­pounded by the re­quire­ment to pay six months’ back rent plus quar­ter four rent in ad­vance come Septem­ber!

It is lit­tle won­der that lobby groups from both sides, UK Hos­pi­tal­ity and the Bri­tish Prop­erty Foun­da­tion, are propos­ing “a third – a third – a third” pol­icy. This would see ten­ants en­joy a 66pc re­duc­tion in rent for quar­ters two, three and four in 2020 – sup­ported by a 33pc con­tri­bu­tion to land­lords by the Gov­ern­ment, which would re­sult in land­lords also tak­ing a hit of 33pc but all par­ties on the whole sur­viv­ing. Since our doors have re­opened, it has felt as if so­ci­ety has never ap­pre­ci­ated hos­pi­tal­ity so much.

Each ser­vice feels like a cel­e­bra­tion of fan­tas­tic food, wine, com­pany, and free­dom! The Eat Out to Help Out scheme has am­pli­fied this feel­ing of good­will and made me more con­vinced than ever that there is a strong fu­ture for large parts of the in­dus­try – from com­fort­able and af­ford­able high qual­ity gas­tro-pubs (The Crick­eters on the Green in Pir­bright, Sur­rey, is the ex­em­plar of this), to clever vir­tual and grab-and-go brands (such as Hon­est Burg­ers, Pizza Pil­grims) and cel­e­bra­tory din­ing and corporate en­ter­tain­ment brands such as my own.

Brands un­der­pinned by eth­i­cal val­ues, re­gard­ing how they source food to how they treat their staff, will have an in­creas­ing com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage and get back into strong fi­nan­cial shape in the years ahead.

‘Too many firms are not en­cour­ag­ing staff to re­turn to the of­fice and the abyss of tourism re­mains a huge con­cern’

The restau­rant sec­tor has been due a re­set for some time, and it is be­ing ac­cel­er­ated by Covid-19. The innovative and en­tre­pre­neur­ial will step up, while those who have taken their em­ploy­ees and guests for granted will fall away.

This is a per­fectly rea­son­able out­come in a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket­place, but in the short-term, with coro­n­avirus still dev­as­tat­ing the play­ing field, a lit­tle more help is needed to pre­vent the wider in­dus­try from per­ma­nent harm.

The Gov­ern­ment must un­der­stand that an ad­just­ment in both rental ex­pec­ta­tions and rates charges will be nec­es­sary to keep the good guys go­ing.

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme has en­abled the sec­tor to get back on its feet but the Gov­ern­ment should of­fer rental as­sis­tance, too

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