JUST how is coronavirus impacting Coventry’s pubs and restaurants? The Observer spoke to Ben Colvin, manager of three Earlsdon businesses – Millsy’s, The Royal Oak and Street.
It has been an unprecedented week in British history.
On Monday Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked Britons to start working from home “where they possibly can” avoid pubs, clubs and theatres and stop non-essential travel in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls responded saying the new advice had left the industry in “limbo with no recourse to insurance”.
She added: “This is catastrophic for businesses and jobs.”
Immediately the hospitality industry across the country faced an inevitable hit as many members of the public took heed of the public health advice on ‘social distancing’, giving brunches, lunch and nights out in the pub a miss.
At three of Earlsdon’s busiest bars and restaurants business was struggling. Ben Colvin, manager of Millsy’s, The Royal Oak and Street in Earsldon, said: “Obviously we have experienced huge drops in trade and have had to react accordingly by reducing staffing levels.
“The government has effectively put the choice in the customer’s hands and our responsibility remains the same – we continue to clean everything that a customer may come into contact with and have moved table seating to increase social distancing so those coming out feel safe.
“We also have made all staff 100 per cent confident that their health is our priority and if we need to close departments to facilitate time off for isolation then we will.”
Ben employs more than 80 staff across these three popular sites on Earlsdon high street – including managers, chefs, bar staff and waiters. Each venue has its own identity: Millsy’s is a contemporary cafe bar, The Royal Oak, a traditional pub with function room and dog-friendly partially covered garden, while Street is a street food restaurant offering Pan-Asian cuisine, craft beer and cocktails.
He said: “We’re changing the rota’s to try and distribute shifts as evenly as possible but with many hours being tied up with managers and full-time staff it sadly a fact of life that the first to suffer are the hourly paid staff.
“We are doing our best to learn as we go and keep reacting to government advice and an ever-changing situation.”
On Tuesday (March 17) Chancellor Rishi Sunak pledged to do ‘whatever it takes’ to tackle the economic impact with a vast package of support worth £350billion.
Pubs, clubs, theatres and and other retail, leisure and hospitality businesses will get support in the form of government-backed loans, cash grants and business rates holidays.
Ben said: “The government has an impossible job at the minute. The package will help to keep independent restaurants and bars such as ours open and employing members of our community, but only time will tell if these measures are enough.
“Based on two days trading since the PM’s announcement we’re probably operating at 5 per cent of what we would normally do on standard Monday and Tuesdays, a 95 per cent drop in trade means that we’ve had to cut the staffing levels, cut our opening hours and reduce our offering.
“We are a popular restaurant on Sundays, especially for Mothers Day – we’ve had cancellations and are expecting more but the good news is that customers will not lose their deposits as we are allowing these to be used at a later date.”
Ben urges customers to be honest with restaurants.
He said: “By actually cancelling bookings rather than ‘no-showing’ means the restaurant can see a clearer picture, change staff levels and avoid food waste.
“All managers in the hospitality industry will be trying to avoid unnecessary costs and run as economically as possible so that we can weather the storm and still be here when all of this is over.”