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Business may not survive with social distancing measures, claim restaurants

Three quarters of restaurants in the UK have warned that their businesses may not survive with social distancing measures in place. 

Operators including café chain Paul as well as JKS have suggested that new measures designed to enforce social distancing could pose an “existential threat” to their businesses, according to the Financial Times

Other operators said they would have to make staff redundant unless the government’s furlough scheme was extended. 

The warnings come after a survey issued by 260 restaurants and bar operators was published by restaurant guide Square Meal.

Over a quarter of people surveyed said it would be “impossible” to implement social distancing measures, as 48% said they expected to make staff redundancies in the next month.

Tobias Jackson, operations director of Adventure Bar, told The Financial Times: “Keeping people one metre apart at entrances and exits and toilet areas is impossible. We would reduce capacity by around 60% to 70%.” 

He said: “This would result in making 50% to 60% of my staff unemployed.”

Jo Eames, director of pub operator Peach Pubs, added: “It’s catastrophic. Margins are so tight and costs so high in hospitality that no business can operate for long with much less than 90% full turnover. 

“Trying to operate at 50% or less will send almost every business into a tailspin of increasing losses.” 

A number of other operators said that the constant sanitation required, such as cleaning surfaces and tableware, and staff hand washing, would “diminish the atmosphere” and increase overhead costs. 

Jyotin Sethi, owner of JKS said: “The challenge will be ongoing compliance with health and safety guidelines, and balance between cost management and product execution.” 

“In our larger restaurants, it is easier to introduce the social distancing measures but they have a larger cost base. Smaller restaurants are much harder to introduce social distancing but they are cheaper to run.”

It comes as several high street hospitality businesses have become victims to the nationwide lockdown, such as Carluccio’s, which collapsed into administration last month, along with Chiquito and Food+Fuel. 

Byron, the burger group, and Busaba, a London-based Thai chain, have also appointed KPMG to advise on survival options, while Le Pain Quotidien is currently seeking a buyer for its UK arm.

The government has yet to announce when lockdown will end but hospitality businesses expect to be among the last allowed to reopen. 

Jackson said he was modelling four scenarios of different capacities to see at what point the business would break even and planning social distancing measures.

He told FT: “The best plan I have so far is putting up plastic screens between tables. It would look terrible and feel horrible . . . but it might be something that from a financial perspective is better than mothballing.” 

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