London Restaurants’ Response To Covid-19 Emergency Lockdown.
We’ve been speaking with Mark Ivackovic, Director of Sales at D&D London. With over 30 restaurants in London, many of which with private dining rooms, D & D are a major London restaurant group and Mark shares his thoughts on the effect that the Coronavirus has had on the industry and how he envisages it will return after the emergency measures have been lifted.
We all became first aware of the appalling Coronavirus outbreak in China during the week after Christmas but when did you and fellow London restaurateurs seriously start thinking about the threat that Covid-19 posed to the London restaurant industry?
The initial reports at the beginning of the year felt like another concerning news story similar to the US/China trade wars and Australian bush fires. As an industry some moved faster than others, things came to a dramatic cliff edge on the 16th March when Boris advised against visiting bars and restaurants. To maintain the safety of our employees and guests we therefore took the difficult decision to close all of our restaurants the following day.
A lot of restaurants have reinvented themselves during lockdown as takeways and prepared meal delivery services, what are your views and has your restaurant considered doing this?
In the first instance we have been supporting the NHS and key workers with wholesome fresh meals in both London and Manchester. Even with the abundance of lock down home menus on offer we all need something to look forward to, so we are also looking at delivery options cooking, our favourite dishes for take away.
What are the short term effects that the Covid-19 lockdown is having on the London restaurant industry and what long term effects do you envisage at the moment?
We are all needing to reinvent ourselves and post the lockdown ensure we provide a safe, secure hygienic restaurant and supply chain for a client base which will rightfully be wary. People are naturally gregarious and sociable, so we need to maintain great service, great food and great value in a fabulous and safe setting, so we can continue to deliver the memorable experience we are known for in our iconic venues.
Do you think that the Government’s emergency help for the restaurant and hospitality industry goes far enough to help mitigate the damage that Coronavirus has caused and what – if any – additional measures would you like to see put in place?
I believe that under very challenging circumstances the government has achieved a huge amount however the restaurant industry has been one of the first and hardest hit with restrictions on travel and gatherings. Support for restaurants is needed for key costs in relation to rent obligations (and the landlords who rely on these rents). They should also support furloughed staff by committing to include tronc payments as part of the JRS.
In the hopeful event that some sort of normality returns to the London restaurant industry in the coming months, what effect do you think the lockdown will have had in terms of restaurants bouncing back?
Without a doubt people will want to socialise and share and celebrate experiences together. The business world also relies on communications and networking. The restaurant industry is not only a key part of the British economy but is contributory part of our happiness. It has a major influence on the quality of our lives.
How important were private dining events to your restaurant in the pre-Covid-19 world and do you think that this will change when the lockdown period ends?
Private dining is a substantial part of our business, I believe there is a pent-up demand and we will see a pickup from social events post lockdown dependent on specific restrictions.
Corporate Christmas party private dining events have always been a stable of the London restaurant industry, how important do you think that they will be this year, assuming that the lockdown has been relaxed by then?
Corporates will have their own restrictions and regulations and will be cautious on returning to business as usual, but there will be some key dates that will still be in high demand. We all know that the wheels of businesses are oiled by face to face collaborations, events and on occasion parties, so I believe there will always be a demand for corporate gatherings although it may take longer to come back.
The London and UK restaurant industry was massively dependent on EU workers prior to Brexit, would you like to see the UK’s Brexit restrictions temporarily relaxed on EU workers to help the industry recover when we enter the post Covid-19 world?
Absolutely even with all our efforts to build and train a highly skilled UK talent pool there will always be a demand by individuals wanting to gain experience in the UK restaurant industry and the restaurant industry wanting a flexible work force which especially in the short to medium term won’t be fulfilled by UK workers alone.
How long do you think that it will take for the London restaurant industry to recover once social distancing restrictions are finally relaxed?
London is a resilient and dynamic ever-changing community that has always bounced back from challenges it has faced. I don’t believe Covid-19 will be any different but I also don’t believe we will go back to how it was.
If Covid-19 has taught you one thing, what would you say this was?
That as an industry we are a key part of our community and how we react and support each other will determine whether we deserve to be successful. That includes our employees, our guests and especially those super human key workers who have been under recognised for so long.