The coronavirus diaries: Liam Dillon

It began on Tuesday 17 March, when we started to see bookings being cancelled left right and centre – the week’s covers were dropping off like there was no tomorrow.

I cut all ‘part time’ staff for the entire week and then spoke to all full time staff members and put them on ‘Short time work’, which essentially was an agreement that I would keep them in work but I would have to reduce their hours and pay as I knew we wouldn’t be getting anywhere near the same amount of income. I didn’t want to lay anyone off as a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic

With everything I am doing at the boat I know that my team comes first, which is a very difficult balancing act when also trying to grow the business in the way I know it needs to move. I started running a small shop through our website, mainly for people that were struggling to get vital ingredients after all the panic buying.

During service and around the few covers that we did have, we were putting orders together for collection.

When the announcement came on Friday the 20th at 17:00, we closed the restaurant. I think we had about 8 covers booked in – we called them to explain that we were closing and it is now so bizarre how a couple of people were angry with my decision: “You don’t have to close until midnight”, “I thought you would at least open this evening”…

After this, my head was elsewhere. After three years of the family running around like idiots, pushing the restaurant and focusing on it 24/7 it all came to a standstill. Quite a surreal feeling if I’m honest. 

My next few days were spent working out how I would look after the staff. I couldn’t afford to pay everyone and wait for the government to pay me back, I didn’t really want to get a loan and also we didn’t qualify for a free grant due to the rateable value of the business.

Grants of £25,000 were given to business’ with a value less than £51,000, which would have allowed me to start paying the staff immediately. I was trying to get hold of someone regarding any possible grants that could help the business at the moment.

My initial thought was that I could furlough the full time staff as this would cost me less initially but I thought it was unfair to the part time staff that are just as committed to the Boat, and everyone else.

I started speaking to my accountant, HR and other chefs about where I stood. I also didn’t want to keep running a business or take away as I was and still am unsure about the government’s moves on business with income and still paying 80% wages.

Above all, I want to do what I am advised to do and keep my staff safe. I decided that I would explain to the staff my situation and furlough everyone but I can’t pay them until the government pays me. 

The decision to get everyone their wages comes with a disadvantage. The government does not think they will be paying the money back to business’ until late April. This would mean that The Boat Inn would have to pay wages until that date. This cannot happen as I don’t have enough money to do this.

Until the government makes payments for these wages I will not be able to pay wages but what I can do is help them by providing  food boxes for staff  to help save out-going costs which I will organise via collecting from the Boat Inn and other essentials that are hard to come by at the moment.

So as it stands, the staff are waiting for pay to come through from the government, but as a business I still have a number of suppliers who are still operating, who I will have to pay for with no income.

My major concern is how we will open up again, and who will be brave enough to dine with usThere are still so many unknowns to come and with no income coming in, I just hope we can survive.

By Liam Dillon, chef and owner of the Boat Inn

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