Here are just some of the twists and turns over the last few weeks. If you want to read all the MCA coverage of the coronavirus crisis click here.
It’s New Year’s Eve. News emerges from China of a new virus which has infected a few dozen people in Wuhan.
The BBC carries a report on this ‘new coronavirus’. On 11 January, China reports its first victim, a 61 year old man with underlying health issues.
Cases are confirmed in Japan, South Korea and Thailand and the first confirmed case in the US is reported on 20 January. On 23 January, the 11 million residents of Wuhan go into lockdown.
The W.H.O. declares a global health emergency after thousands of new cases are reported in China. On 31 January, the US restricts travel from China. The death toll stands at 213, all victims are from China.
The first death outside China is reported in the Philippines and concerns about the rapid spread of the virus grow, as do concerns over mass gatherings, like trade events with thousands of delegates from other countries. Cancellations take place.
The first death in Europe is recorded in France. The victim was an 80-year old Chinese tourist. Medical staff in China plead for more equipment and protective wear. The following day the UK reports its first case.
Towns are locked down in Italy after a sharp rise in cases. By 28 February infections are rising quickly across other countries including Northern Ireland, Wales, Germany and France. Both England and Switzerland reported additional cases, while Belarus, Estonia and Lithuania all reported their first infections.
The UK has 20 reported cases and says the latest patient was the first to contract the virus in the UK.
The coronavirus issue is fast becoming a potential issue for all sorts of businesses, including hospitality. As Greggs reports another round of positive results, CEO Roger Whiteside warns of uncertainty in the outlook for the business thanks to the potential impact of the virus. Twenty days later it shuts its entire estate. The global death toll is now 3,000 with 90,000 infected.
CGA reveals confidence among business leaders was at its highest for four years before the coronavirus threatened to take hold. On 9 March it conducts another snap poll of 100 operators which reveals concerns are rising fast, with 85% of senior executives across the out-of-home food and drink market now “concerned” about the threat of coronavirus to their business, with 58% of leaders “very concerned”. The UK records its first death from the virus.
The hospitality industry calls on the government to step in after waves of cancellations across hotels, nightclubs, bars and restaurants. On 11 March, the US bans travellers from Europe. Barclaycard says sales of takeaways and food to go are up 8.7% year on year.
The Coffer Peach Business Tracker reveals February sales fell 3.3% year on year, with managed pub groups taking the biggest hit. Brandon Stephens, advisory partner at TriSpan and founder of Tortilla, tells the R200 conference that restaurant operators should plan for the worst-case scenario. “We’ve run a number of scenarios, 20% down, 40% down. But what if we were 100% down? What would we do? It’s very surreal. For those looking at planning it’s worth looking at the worst case scenario.” The UK death toll rises to 10.
MCA’s latest Eating Out Panel reveals a drop in frequency and spend which acts as a portent of what’s to come.
The industry calls for a series of tax breaks and subsidies over fears that hundreds of operators could go out of business. Wireless Social reveals “entirely unprecedented” drops in footfall across all major cities. UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls warns a “short-term cashflow catastrophe” is coming.
NYC and LA shut down all bars and restaurants and Time Out closes its food markets. London Union and Street Feast founder Jonathan Downey starts up a WhatsApp group for the industry to try and pull it together and share advice, ideas, and communicate a collective and consistent set of priorities for the media and government. Listed restaurant and pub groups see share prices plunge, with Marston’s down 44% and the Restaurant Group down 46%. Later that evening, PM Boris Johnson asks the UK to “avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues”.
Calls for government intervention intensify. Carluccio’s CEO Mark Jones tells MCA the hospitality sector is on a “war footing” and requires an “across the board, fast injection” of capital from government to survive. Over 200 CEOs from the hospitality industry send a joint letter with UK Hospitality, appealing to the Prime Minister to act. Mowgli announces the temporary closure of all its restaurants, followed by D&D London and Corbin & King. Later that day, chancellor Rishi Sunak promises guaranteed loans for businesses but makes no specific provision for employees.
A host of operators including Brasserie Bar Co, JKS Restaurants, Darwin & Wallace, Smith and Wollensky and Cosmo shutter sites. The UK death toll hits 104.
The Azzurri Group closes all Ask, Zizzi and Coco di Mama restaurants. Dozens more follow, while fast food outlets including McDonald’s and KFC close seating areas.
Boris Johnson orders cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants to close and chancellor Rishi Sunak announces new action to protect jobs and businesses. As part of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the Government pledges to cover 80% of employee wages, up to a total of £2,500 per month, to prevent them being laid off during the course of the pandemic. The industry breathes a sigh of relief and attention switches to a moratorium on rents.
Pret closes all its stores, having previously switched to takeaway and delivery only.
Greggs, McDonald’s, Nando’s and Starbucks do the same. Later that day the government says commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent because of coronavirus will be protected from eviction. But it also announces the UK is officially on lockdown.
Leon is praised for remaining open to feed NHS workers while Tim Martin is accused of abandoning staff. Meanwhile doubts begin to emerge over the loan scheme announced by the government the previous week, after directors are asked to personally guarantee loans by banks.
Attention switches to the fate of the self-employed workers. Protective measures are announced on 26 March and a vital rent moratorium is put in place which buys operators some time. But closures and lay-offs continue.
TRG puts Chiquito into administration and Carluccio’s teeters on the edge. After an eerie weekend, Carluccio’s goes into administration on 30 March. TRG tells MCA it has no plans to put any more of its brands into the administration process. Casual Dining Group stays silent. CGA later reveals sales throughout March fell 58% as the lockdown took hold in the UK.
UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls urges the government to offer legal protection to operators threatened by hostile landlords.
Consumer confidence hits a record low, while Ei and Punch extend rent deferrals. On Sunday 5th April, PM Boris Johnson is admitted to hospital. On Monday he’s moved into intensive care.
TRG downsizes executive pay while the Antonio Carluccio Foundation offers grants of £500,000 to businesses hit by the coronavirus.
Cote launches a ready meal delivery service and it’s revealed that tips will be excluded from the JRS. It’s joined by Paul on the 8 April as it launches a grocery delivery service. The UK death toll now stands at 6,159.
Delivery sales are up as the lockdown continues. Greggs secures £150m from the Covid Corporate scheme as the UK embarks on a strange long Easter weekend. The PM is discharged from hospital after staying there for a week.
Richard Caring opens Bill’s and Ivy Collection kitchens to feed those in need and on 15 April there is relatively good news when KFC re-opens 15 sites for delivery only. It’s followed by Pret the next day, which re-opens 10 sites.
Burger King carries on the small but positive momentum by opening four sites, but the crucial issue of rents remains top of the agenda as Jonathan Downey prepares to submit an official nine month rent free proposal to the government. The state of lockdown is extended for another three weeks as the UK death toll hits 13,729. The JRS is extended, but only for another month to the end of June.
Michael Gove tells the BBC that hospitality will be “among the last to exit the lock down, that is true, they will be among the last.”