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How to rebuild Bristol’s hospitality business in the wake of coronavirus

By martin booth, Monday Jun 22, 2020

Restaurant owners from across Bristol have asked the city’s elected representatives to help them as the UK begins to ease out of lockdown restrictions.

Coordinated by the Bristol Food Union, the letter is signed by restaurateurs ranging from Michelin-starred establishments to small cafes.

Among what they ask for is a temporary hospitality rent freeze, “a world-class pedestrianisation plan for Bristol”, and the funding of work-placement opportunities to employ apprentices who are unable to complete their hospitality qualifications without a period of paid employment.

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Here is the letter in full:

For the attention of Members of Parliament for Bristol: Kerry McCarthy, Thangam Debonnaire, Darren Jones and Karin Smyth, and mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees

Re: the opportunity to build back better for Bristol food and hospitality in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis

Dear all,

We can all agree that food plays a huge role in helping to make Bristol… well, Bristol.

Our city enjoys a national reputation as a food destination. Visitors come, in part, to experience our thriving culture of independent restaurants and food businesses, and to sample our delicious products.

Along with our colleagues in live-music, arts and festivals, we form an ecosystem of small businesses, freelancers and entrepreneurs, who punch well above our weight in delivering economic benefit to the city. Over 44,000 of us work in food and hospitality alone.

What makes food in Bristol truly unique, is the quality and diversity of what already exists here. Surrounded by some of the best produce in the UK, we have everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to community food projects. We reach people of all ages and economic backgrounds.

Since the covid-crisis hit, we have demonstrated our entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to feeding the people of Bristol. We have never been prouder of how everyone came together to collaborate in a crisis. But we are in significant and immediate trouble, and we want you to understand just what we’re up against.

Margins

Hospitality businesses have been operating in the margins for far too long. Since 2016 alone, we have absorbed the increased cost of European produce, the reduction in skilled hospitality workers, rising high street rents, rising energy bills and the move to a universal living wage.

The UK is one of the only countries in Europe not to have a reduced rate of VAT for hospitality

Our restaurants are heavily dependent on month-to-month cash liquidity. A good weekend is no longer enough to see us through a quiet mid-week. For many of us, breakeven depends on our restaurants being full almost all of the time.

Bristol is full of small restaurants (40 covers or less). If our restaurants are small, then our kitchens are even smaller. In many cases we simply cannot create safe physical distancing between staff and still run a functional kitchen. The financial case for re-opening with fewer customers just doesn’t stack up. The hospitality industry is going to need significant, targeted support if we are to survive the next 12-18 months.

Hospitality supply chains

The covid-crisis has highlighted the precarious nature of our regional food supply chains.

Some of our best food producers are almost 100% dependent upon the restaurant industry. They now find themselves in desperate situations. Food must still be produced, whilst demand has all but disappeared.

It should not be the case that demand for high-quality, locally produced food is still considered the luxury of chefs who care about production, provenance and taste.

Opportunity to build back better

We are at the very beginning of an impending climate crisis; the UK is only 52% food secure. We have an opportunity to put good food at the heart of our economic build back plans

Bristol could be a world-leader in demonstrating how a sustainable, regenerative food and farming economy can deliver beneficial outcomes across a wide-range of other sectors including; health, wellbeing, training and skills, employment, tourism and more.

Re-opening

Our government is not providing us with the information we need to tell us how to re-open safely, and we appreciate the work already underway with city councillors and council departments to help address issues and concerns.

However, as we move closer to the supposed July 4th reopening date, the lack of clear information or guidance is deeply concerning. The idea that we might restock, re-staff and reopen our restaurants in a matter of weeks is unrealistic.

The needs of Bristol’s food businesses vary widely depending on what size we are, whether we can access outdoor space, whether we offer alcohol, how big our kitchens are and whether roads can be pedestrianised… A one size fits all approach will not work.

We’ve made some recommendations that could help

Nationally

  • Bristol’s MPs should immediately add their voices to the work already underway with the Hospitality Union. They are advocating for a 9-month hospitality rent freeze, and to bring social distances in-line with the 1-1.5m model followed in Europe. We have enclosed more information here.
  • Bristol MPs can support the call for an urgent and immediate reduction in VAT for the hospitality sector, which in some European countries is currently as low as 5%
  • Bristol MPs can advocate for a hospitality specific discretionary grants fund to provide support that accounts for the difference between fixed-overheads and reduced capacity income

Locally

  • Engage with Bristol hospitality to produce reopening guidelines, which account for the different types and sizes of businesses that make up our industry
  • Consider extending sector specific business rate relief for those who need it
  • Clarify an outdoor access plan, offering provision or financial support for those food businesses without access to outdoor seating
  • Prioritise a world-class pedestrianisation plan for Bristol. Consider temporary pedestrianisation of key streets for the rest of this summer. Our city was lush during lockdown. Let’s not rush to jam it full of traffic again
  • Consider providing funding or work-placement opportunities to employ apprentices who are unable to complete their hospitality qualifications without a period of paid employment
  • Work with licensing to allow restaurants which held a clean on- license prior to the outbreak automatic approval to serve off-licence for a fixed period

Signed, on behalf of Bristol Food Union, by:

Aine Morris, Bristol Food Union
Josh Eggleton, Pony & Trap Group
Kieran & Imogen Waite, Season & Taste Group
Jan Wilson, Wilson’s
Dominic Borel & Ben Harvey, Bianchi’s Group
Peter Sanchez-Iglesias, Casamia Group
Jamie Randall, Adelina Yard
Tessa & Elliot Lidstone, Box-E
Larkin Cen, Wokyko
Nathan Lee, Hyde & Co Group
Jennifer Best & Ben Pryor, Poco
Iain and Matthew Pennington, The Ethicurean
Charlie James, Jamaica Street Stores
Shona Graham, Emmeline’s
Toby Gritten, The Pump House
Jamie Pike, Canteen Group
Freddy Bird, Little French
Charles Mooyaart, Tobacco Factory / Grain Barge
James Koch, The Gallimaufry & Suncraft
Henry Eldon, The Cauldron
Lucien Gordon, Asado
Heather Simmonds, Gopal’s Curry Shack
Sonya Devi, The Vegetable Diva
Jo Ingleby, Taste & Season
Esther Gooch, Baraka Community Cafe
Gary Derham, Bristol Loaf
Simon Bartlett, Bristol Beer Factory
Kate Ploughman, Kate’s Kitchen
Pepe Blanco, Thali Cafe
Adrian Kirikmaa, B Block
Jake Platt, Glassboat
Graham Faragher, Bertha’s Pizza
Jimmy Conway Dyer, Forest Bakery
Maria Clarke, Mark’s Bread
Navina Bartlett, Coconut Chilli

Main photo: Lost & Grounded / Box E

Read more: ‘Urgent intervention’ needed to prevent collapse of hospitality industry

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