Liverpool hospitality boss urges public to support independent business after lockdown
3 years ago
The co-founder of one of Liverpool’s biggest restaurant and bar businesses has warned that many of the city’s venues may stay closed rather than reopening with social distancing measures.
Matt Farrell, director of Graffiti Spirits Group which includes Duke Street Market, Santa Maluco and Salt Dog Slims, says restrictions would be too damaging to some restaurants’ already tight finances and to the experience for customers.
While they’re looking to reopen Bold Street Coffee for takeaway only from this weekend, it could mean other restaurants remain in shutdown for months.
“One of the biggest issues for us is not knowing what’s going to happen – we could be looking at next April before we have hospitality anywhere near where it was, and that includes public confidence to go back out,” says Matt.
“Distancing by two metres is all very well in supermarkets but you don’t really want that when you’re going out for something to eat or drink because it’s the very essence of what it shouldn’t be as an experience.
“You’re going out to relax, not to be on the back foot worrying about your health because that almost defeats the whole object.
“How many people would want to go into a restaurant if there were screens between tables and you had to have your temperature taken before you went in? Would people be looking at staff and worrying if they’re distancing or getting too close to another table? And the biggest problem is the toilets – how do you police social distancing in toilets?
“These are the things we’re going to have to consider once we know what is happening with restrictions. Obviously, everyone’s got to be safe so decisions will have to be made as to whether restaurants open in that capacity or they stay shut because it doesn’t work for them or for the people coming to them.”
Matt, like many other Liverpool restaurant and bar owners, is looking to the Government to support the hospitality sector with special financial aid and concessions.
Graffiti Spirits Group was among businesses in the Liverpool Hospitality Association which wrote an impassioned letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak explaining how the coronavirus pandemic had left them “in a position that they may not survive”.
They urged him to put into place measures including a review of furloughing payments, VAT reduction, a National Time Out initiative to support rent payments to landlords and a Raise the Bar initiative increasing the threshold for business rate grants.
It’s that help, Matt explains, which will allow each business to make decisions based on what’s right for its own specific operation and the safety of its customers.
“The support needs to be there so we can all make those choices,” he says. “Otherwise there’s a danger that your hand is forced so you have to open, to keep people in jobs or just to keep in people’s minds.
“You think, are we better staying shut and coming back when society is ready and people are chomping at the bit to get there? It’s a massive risk and some businesses won’t be able to do that.
“But restaurants run on very fine margins, they’re tiny, so covers are money. If you’re running at 50% capacity with the same costs it won’t be long before businesses start to hit the wall.
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“I’ve been having conversations with a lot of people about that and quite a few are considering never reopening and that’s what we want to avoid. If you have to start again – and we’ve seen this before in Liverpool – it can take years.”
Matt says alongside the Government, customers can play a major part in ensuring independent bars, restaurants and other businesses such as florists and hair salons are still there once the crisis has eased.
“Liverpool is awash with independent businesses especially food and drink which give it that creative edge and character, but they really need support,” he adds.
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“Once we have an indication of when things can open and how we can plan an environment where people can feel safe, it’s going to be more important than ever that people put their money back into the local economy rather than going to the big chains and brands.
“I’d like to see people carry on using the local businesses they’ve been using during lockdown – so this will have been like a little reset and people will think more about where they get their produce, the quality of it, and the people who supply it. That’s the key, putting money back in.
“These businesses and these people make us who we all are, they contribute to our lives, and them being there makes us proud to live where we live. No-one wants to see empty shops and restaurants, so it’s going to be all about keeping that loyalty.”