The coronavirus continues to wreak havoc. It’s claimed hundreds of thousands of lives around the world and numbers continue to rise. As dreadful as that is, the long term socio-economic impact is more disturbing.

The virus has created a level of disruption to health, society, and the economy that’s never happened before, outside of wartime. And while there is plenty of speculation on how life in general may get back to normal post-lockdown, with vaguely optimistic or pessimistic dates floating around, there is no clarity on how or when this might end.

Early on, when the situation was still merely disruptive as opposed to devastating, concerning parallels were drawn with the global economic crisis of 2008. How easy that crisis seems by comparison. That put the majority of the public under sustained financial pressure for years, some banks went to the wall. But it didn’t involve thousands of deaths from a virus that forced everyone to stay indoors for 23 hours a day.

The effect on life in general has been terrible. To focus on the hospitality industry, the vast majority of it has officially been shut down, stuck in an operating impasse through no fault of its own.

It’s no exaggeration to call the situation biblical. It’s been hit by a plague and finds itself in a state of famine. We’ve pulled out some key moments of how everything developed in this timeline and it makes for grim reading. Meanwhile, as MCA’s contributing editor Peter Martin also points out, there is one singularly pertinent question that is preying on the very future of hospitality. When can we open again?

I’m not an operator, so I obviously can’t wholly empathise, but I can to some degree. I love chain restaurants. I grew up in the 1980s, when compared to the chippy or the Wimpy, McDonald’s was exciting, all the way from the USA. I was six when a McDonald’s first opened nearby, a colourful plasticky place where we ate burgers and fries and sucked strawberry milkshake through a straw.

A Happy Eater opened closer to us not long after, or maybe it was not long before, with a giant orange elephant slide outside and a free lollipop if you finished your meal.

Years later I started working there as a 17-year old waiter in bottle green trousers, a green stripy shirt and a matching bow tie. Then I became a cook in a paper hat frying up full English breakfasts for cyclists at 7am.

One very sweet and elderly couple would come in every single day around mid-morning, they would order from the kid’s menu, always three mini fish shapes, chips and peas. Then they would leave and come back around 4pm for a pot of tea and a toasted teacake. Sometimes it was the other way around.

There was a Little Chef a mile or so away. Competition was fierce. Today, neither site exists. The Happy Easter closed and was left to rot, which was miserable to see. It’s been a storage facility for years now.

The Little Chef down the road carried on for a while. It added a Burger King concession at some point, but it didn’t work out. It later became a Frankie & Benny’s. That didn’t work out either. Now it’s a Tesco Express.

That sad story is a micro-example of the macro-situation we are watching or experiencing today in the hospitality industry. There are plenty of heroes coming to the fore to help, including UK Hospitality, which is doing an outstanding job representing the best interests of its sector while it’s stuck in this state of enforced inertia.

At MCA we are committed to bringing you the news and insight you need to know and to continue to bring you together, albeit virtually, to try and help you hang tight and plan your return. Because hopefully, unlike the Happy Eater, you are coming back.