Inside track: will the new normal be a change for the better, asks Neil Rankin

05 May 2020 by
Inside track: will the new normal be a change for the better, asks Neil Rankin

Although we're all hoping for a return to normality, Neil Rankin is holding out for a ‘new normal' that improves on the old

When Chrissy Teigen had children, there was shock in the tabloid media that, unlike the standard Sports Illustrated supermodel, she didn't snap back to her pre-baby weight. Instead she became a mum, and seemingly an awesome one at that.

I prefer new Chrissy Teigen, but, as a society, some of us prefer people and things to be examples of unachievable personal goals, rather than something that gives us hope and nourishment. The idea that we should always look to some idealistic past self, even if that self wasn't happy, and even after huge changes have occurred, has a lot to do with our growing social anxieties and our difficulty in accepting progress and change.

What has happened over the past two months is a tragedy, and my heart genuinely goes out to those affected, not just now, but in the coming months, which could be even worse. That said, if you were to ask me if I hope the restaurant industry just goes back to the way it was, like a supermodel after pregnancy, I have to say I really, really don't.

If we're honest with ourselves, even though this virus could be the root cause of the destruction of our industry, we did have massive underlying health conditions. This industry has been sick for a long time.

There are lots of things I miss about it. I miss the camaraderie, the intensity, the excitement, and I really just miss restaurants and pubs in general, but there is a whole lot that I don't miss at all. I don't miss the insane cost of rent from landlords or rates from a council that tightens your licence to a point restricting you from creating a business the public wants to spend real money in. I don't miss trying to turn a restaurant five times a night just to break even. I don't miss the no-shows, the grumpy complainers and the idiots that refuse to pay service charge because we brought the wrong wine.

I don't miss having to do brunch and Sunday lunch to make money. I don't miss worrying about review sites and social media, or when I finally respond to one of the 100,000 people who like to tell me what it is I should have done, I don't miss being told I'm being "over-sensitive".

I don't miss recruitment companies selling you an inexperienced GM for £100,000 and the fact that you're grateful, because there's nobody else applying. I don't miss the chefs that moan about a chef crisis they created and criticise the staff they have for not embracing with joy a 19-hour day on minimum wage.

I don't miss the property agents telling me I've got a great deal for £300,000 a year for a tiny space in Shoreditch, where few restaurants have made money for 10 years, forcing us all further and further from where there are any people.

The thing I will miss least of all are the know-it-all amateur economists that tell me that London food is too expensive, despite busy restaurants not making enough money to pay staff and rent and needing to do multiples to make any real money at all.

I hope we get it back and I sincerely hope that as few people lose their businesses as possible, but I also hope we wake up to a better industry, where more than a few people can succeed and people can stop trying to achieve some impossible goal in an impossible marketplace that has few rewards for so much hard work and stress.

I hope we come back, but I hope we don't just snap back to what we had, that we can start just serving nice food again with friendly service and that be enough. I want us to be new Chrissy Teigen, not the old one that looked perfect but we all knew was hurting inside and was probably a bit miserable.

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