Over the past year, restaurants have had to dream up creative ways to stay in business. Many did so by moving to new business models.
I asked eight chefs and restaurateurs to explain who, or what, has been most helpful in these endeavours.
Michel Roux Jnr
Le Gavroche, London
I had taken on a young office assistant just before the first lockdown. When Covid-19 struck, sadly I had to put him on furlough.
Yet he had a vision of what he could bring to the company. He told me our social media was lacklustre and our website was ancient and costly to run. He could design a simple, cost-efficient website and incorporate a shop to sell books and items with a Le Gavroche logo. So he got to work. I gradually took him off furlough and soon he was back full time. The shop went crazy, boosted by a huge leap in followers on all our social media channels.
I feel very lucky to have him.
Caravan Coffee, London
The most important thing was the decision not to make anyone redundant. Ultimately, we couldn’t face laying off people with no options to find alternative employment and then we just hoped and prayed the government would help.
It’s been an awful time with the constant opening and closing of sites, curfews, track and trace, masks and sanitiser. We have lost a huge amount of money.
But our take on April 12 was 2 per cent more than the same Monday in 2019, which is not bad for a freezing-cold day in April.
Hawksmoor, London, Manchester and Edinburgh
I think the best decision was made by the person who started Hawksmoor Run Club. To raise money for Hospitality Action, lots of people who work here decided to aggregate their running miles and convert them into an imaginary sponsored run from London to New York via Manchester and Edinburgh — a fun idea that was hugely bonding and healthy.
I’m very glad we managed to retain everyone’s jobs and that we’ve had a high degree of focus on wellbeing. It has certainly tested us financially, but we’ve managed to make it work. Quickly launching the delivery businesses has been critical for us. Although the restaurants were closed for months, the new businesses mean that we’re doing more or less half of our previous sales and have reduced our (previously very high!) cash burn to close to zero.
Galvin Restaurants, London
From day one, my brother Jeff kept us ahead of the curve. He drove the Galvin at Home service, created cook-along videos and branched out into corporate dining. We have learnt far too much about digital platforms, sustainable packaging, branded tape and stickers, as well as the vagaries of certain delivery companies. Without his impetus we could never have kept up with the crushing fixed overheads and rent. Not quite a saint — but close!
We decided to reopen Vinoteca Chiswick as a shop selling drinks as well as homemade sourdough, cured meats, cheese, olives, flour and pasta. We also developed “finish at home” dishes, which in turn led to meal kits. Key to this were our Chiswick head chef Tim Ingall and general manager Sandro Costa. Invaluable!
USHG, New York
Without our amazing chief people officer, Patti Simpson, we would never have been able to go through the very difficult tasks of laying off so many members of our team (with both clarity and compassion) and then subsequently rebuilding those teams when finally permitted to reopen the restaurants. Patti also led our Hugs Fund, helping us to raise close to $2m for our out-of-work staff.
Ballymaloe House, Ireland
The best decision was to host a food market at the cookery school. It gave many of our suppliers an outlet for produce that would normally have been bought by restaurants. It also gave the Ballymaloe Farm an outlet for much of our own produce that would have been destined for the hotel — meat, eggs, fruit, cider.
The kitchen then began to cook food to sell, which generated work for the kitchen and front-of-house teams. My nephew Toby, chef Darina Allen’s son, deserves the credit for this.
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