Although no restrictions were announced for the hospitality sector, concerns over the new Omicron variant and the prime minister's announcement last weekend apparently dented consumer confidence with operators reporting cancellations in the wake of Saturday's press conference.
Boris Johnson announced on Saturday (27 November) that from 4am on Tuesday (30 November), face coverings will be compulsory in shops and on public transport – but not in hospitality – and arrivals into the country will need to take a day two PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative test result.
House of Feasts chef-patron Damian Wawrzyniak said that within 48 hours of the announcement, more than 20 tables cancelled their bookings. He told The Caterer people were cancelling as a precaution in case further restrictions are announced.
Over the weekend the restaurant started marketing Christmas boxes, however he said: "This is only food – the major income is drinks. If you're losing the drinks, you're probably losing 50% of your income…
"We have to offer everything now because it's the only thing we can do – nationwide deliveries, an online shop, takeaway. Maybe this will help us through, but if we're going to have Christmas cancelled again this year I don't know what is going to happen. It doesn't look good."
He expressed concern that not requiring masks in hospitality was an excuse for the government to not support the sector financially and said the government needed to communicate that restaurants are safe.
Markus Thesleff, founder of Los Mochis restaurant in London's Notting Hill, said guests were "extremely concerned" and the restaurant was already seeing cancellations "even before the recent news". David Moore, founder of Michelin-starred Pied à Terre in Fitzrovia, agreed that cancellations had "already started".
Sam Morgan, owner of the Craft and 8 restaurants in Birmingham, told The Caterer bookings had dropped from around 150 covers a day to less than 10 since the prime minister's announcement.
He said: "Over the last 48 hours the number of people booking and looking at our site has taken one hell of a drop.
"As soon as Boris comes out and says anything remotely negative, we see a drop off, and we're not the only sector to see that. You also see a lot of people knee-jerk cancelling just through panic.
"I'm not saying what the government has come out and said is wrong, but how the public reacts has a significant impact."
Morgan said his businesses were closing from the third week of December until mid-January, but he was concerned a drop in confidence would discourage customers from making advance bookings for early 2022.
He added: "The worrying part is the first quarter of 2022 for hospitality. That's more of a concern for me than Christmas. In the city centre you're reliant on the corporate market. There may be a lot of last-minute bookings rather than [customers] planning ahead, which is hard for us as a business to plan for."
"To a degree the hospitality sector is becoming used to dealing with challenging times, so maybe we're a bit more resilient than we were a year ago. That doesn't mean that it's not difficult, but we're probably a bit wiser to it."
Not all operators saw an impact, however, with London apparently faring better.
"As yet we haven't noticed any differences with our Christmas party bookings, but there may be some cancellations or changes going forward in the wake of this new variant," said Olga Kornilova, marketing director at Piazza Italiana in the City.
Rowena Romulo, co-owner of Romulo on High Street Kensington and Kasa and Kin in Soho, had similarly not seen any fallout from the weekend's announcement. "Covers were at expected levels and we continue to receive requests for Christmas bookings," she said.
"Fortunately we are not seeing any changes just yet and – thankfully – we think we won't for December," added Piotr Maruszczak, general manager of Frenchie in Covent Garden, which he said was "very busy and buzzing every day".
He added: "We will be able to get a better idea in a week or so but for now nothing has changed for us."
Photo: Number 10 / Flickr
You need to be a premium member to view this. Subscribe from just 99p per week.
Already subscribed? Log In