‘How can we survive?’: Eastbourne restaurants’ fears over ‘Plan B’ restrictions

A number of restaurants in Eastbourne have expressed their anxiety about business in the coming months due to the new covid restrictions.

The Prime Minister announced that England will move to Plan B on December 8 following the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the UK.

The new measures encourage all those that can to work from home, and mandate the wearing of face masks.

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Restaurants and bars in the area have largely supported the move to tackle the spread of the new variant, but have expressed concern that they have not received enough support to manage the expected drop in business.

Rashmi Thapa and Deepak Panday of Dolma Kitchen, Eastbourne SUS-210929-091854001

Owners worry that, despite the hospitality sector being exempt from many of the new restrictions, business will be affected as those working from home will not engage in Christmas lunches that play such a big role in the festive period for restaurants.

They said they also expect footfall to drop as people avoid going out due to fear of catching the new variant.

Deepak Panday, who is the head chef at Dolma Kitchen on Susans Road, said, “If there is a problem we have to change things. We have to do it right away because (it involves) so many people’s lives.”

Despite voicing his support for the move to reduce infections, the chef said further restrictions could make things difficult for the restaurant industry.

Dolma Kitchen, Eastbourne SUS-210929-111130001

He said, “It is really going to be a big problem. We cannot survive if we go this way.

“How can we survive?

“Everybody is going to suffer a lot and if businesses close down how will we pay the rent? How will the businesses survive? They are not going to give us free rent.”

Vicky Kotsiou, owner of Gr/Eat Greek cuisine, added, “Not only are we facing a high number of cancellations since the announcements, 55 per cent, but we’re also experiencing a decreasing booking pace at 38 per cent when comparing the week prior to the announcements versus the week after.

.gr/eat Greek restaurant, Eastbourne SUS-160604-100617001

“The restrictions will absolutely affect our Christmas business. They have already affected us given that we hired temporary staff and have already invested in their training.

“We’ll now have to either let them go or give them way less hours than initially planned. We have also purchased stock (beverages and alcohol) and secured specialty produce (aged meat etc) through pre-orders.

“There’s no support whatsoever. The lack of clarity from the government and advisory nature of the guidelines, in practice means no recognition of the business loss and therefore no support planned for.

“The VAT has increased since September, furlough has seized and grants are not available.”

Aleksandra Gatta, owner of Gianni’s Italian restaurant, said, “Initially business was trading as usual with no cancellations and no drop in footfall.

“But after a few days into the restrictions we did notice significant changes, fewer walk ins and the arrival of a few cancellations.

“My guess is companies had to sit and reflect, evaluate the risks. Mostly our bookings were affected in number changes - for example, a party of 20 became seven , ten changed to five and so on.

“We are hesitating while listening to the unclear messages given to us by the government at the moment. Whatever they are doing at the moment is very damaging. The introduction of a 12,5% VAT rate was premature as well as the ending of the furlough scheme. A few of our staff have had their hours significantly reduced for unspecified period of time.

“We had a very bad year with the pandemic with all the opening and closing, lockdown after lockdown. It‘s the second busiest period of the year for us yet this year again we face a very uncertain future.”

Mr Panday, who opened his restaurant in October, added, “It is other people we have to think about.

“We have to do this to look after people’s lives and we have to look after all lives too because without the businesses we cannot survive.”

The Bok Shop co-founder Jamie O’Mara also voiced his support for ‘Plan B’.

He said, “I think the ‘Plan B’ restrictions, given the situation, I think make sense.

“It has taken people a little while to readjust to how it was because we have done this all before.”

Despite the restrictions allowing restaurants to remain open, Mr O’Mara said he is most concerned about how business will be impacted by the change.

He said, “What I am most worried about is people’s behaviour.

“People are being encouraged to stay inside and people working from home has an influence on us.”

Mr O’Mara said although deliveries go up when people are working from home, it is not enough.

The co-founder said, “I think we are going to really understand the full extent of it on the other side of Christmas. I think people are still out and about.

Mr O’Mara added, “I am definitely concerned about it.

“At the moment things seem to be working but come January we are a bit concerned.”