Leading operators including chef Raymond Blanc, Wagamama chief Andy Hornby and Hospitality Union's Jonathan Downey have said reducing distancing requirements to one metre would see more businesses survive the Covid-19 crisis and save "thousands of jobs".
Calls have been made for the government to follow the World Health Organization's (WHO's) recommendation of one-metre distancing, rather than the two metres currently prescribed by Public Health England, with business leaders saying that for many it could be the difference between survival and failure.
Blanc, behind Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in Great Milton, Oxfordshire, and the Brasserie Blanc group, said: "If the government demands two metres between each table, even at Le Manoir where tables are already a metre or more apart, we would struggle. It would be 40 guests instead of 80.
"In most businesses tables are 50cm to 60cm apart. Brasserie Blanc is very successful, yet we don't know how we will do it. We make our money through volume. We buy expensive produce, from the same suppliers as Le Manoir – to then serve one-third of the guests will mean it's not a business model any more. We will battle on but it's going to be very, very hard – there will be a lot of hardship and misery."
There was some hope last week as professor Yvonne Doyle of Public Health England told the Commons science and technology committee that the advised distance would be the "subject of continued investigation", following reports of other countries advising shorter distancing.
Blanc added: "The French have decided to do one metre – are we too cautious? I think two metres will mean a high rate of failures, while one metre gives you a chance to a succeed and lay off the minimum people."
Jonathan Downey, founder of Hospitality Union and chief executive of London Union, said: "It would make a massive difference; it will mean firstly that more businesses will open and people can come off furlough and secondly that more businesses can open profitably or won't lose so much money."
Andy Hornby, chief executive of the Restaurant Group, owner of Wgamama and Frankie & Benny's, believes the move could affect thousands of hospitality employees. He added: "Our number-one priority is the safety and welfare of our customers and colleagues. We are working on a wide range of safety measures including social distancing, use of screens, ordering from tables and use of PPE.
"If the social distancing guidance was to be set at one metre, in line with the WHO guidelines, then the industry should be able to operate at around 70% capacity and thousands of jobs will be saved."
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