The hospitality sector is in turmoil after suffering two national lockdowns, a pingdemic and more.

Omicron’s spread has led to cancellations skyrocketing as families scramble to cut down on the risk of getting it before Christmas.

After weeks of pleas from business owners for extra financial support, Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday announced a £1 billion bailout for the hospitality industry. It is too little and too late, however.

In limbo: Michael Raphel, left, and Jay Rahman, right, are co-owners of JM Socials restaurant group

Jay Rahman (right) and Michael Raphel (left), are co-owners at JM Socials. 

Michael Raphel is 40 and co-owns six restaurants located in Oxford and Cheltenham. He tells Fiona Parker that Omicron caused havoc for his business.

Saturday, 27 November 

In the UK, Omicron has confirmed its first case. Jay, my partner and I are not sure how concerned we should be. 

Scientists may not be able to decide within weeks if this is a real threat.

Anyone who is in contact with Omicron cases will be subject to a 10-day isolation period. Is this a sign of a new pingdemic virus?

In August nearly half our employees were absent from work, so we closed our chicken restaurant for about a week. In a good week, our business, JM Socials, will turn over around £75,000, but we lost a third of our takings that month.

Sunday 28th November

Three restaurants were open to take-out during the lockdown. So I am ordering £2,000 worth of boxes and packaging today to prepare for the worst.

JM Socials currently has approximately 90 workers in our restaurants. 

Some people are anxious about the virus and others about their job security. 

In September, we closed the furlough program for 40 waiters and front-of-house employees. Is it possible to have employees sent home again?

Tuesday, 30 November

On Mondays, our restaurants close. This morning, managers cancelled more than 40 diners.

All of them are sincere and gracious. One third of them or their friends test positive. 

After weeks of pleas from business owners for extra financial support, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a £1bn bailout for the hospitality industry

After weeks of pleas from business owners for extra financial support, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a £1bn bailout for the hospitality industry

Others are afraid of it. They are right, and that is why I respect their safety and value my customers and staff above all else. 

But with each diner spending around £50, it is a big financial hit.

Thursday, December 2.

Jay and I have a meeting every morning with our operation managers. All staff will receive an email instructing them to use face masks again today.

While it’s necessary, this is a difficult decision to make. I also know it isn’t easy for the employees. 

A mask is not comfortable in a hot kitchen. And waiters who are dependent on tips can’t smile at their customers while wearing a mask. Our wonderful staff is happy to oblige.

Saturday, December 4.

We are seeing more cancellations than ever and we will have to be prepared for many more in the coming weeks.

Bookings for the 66 Diners at Bhoomi in Cheltenham, a South Asian restaurant, were cancelled yesterday.

That is going to amount to more than £3,300 in losses. Jay’s base at Prithvi is even worse. 

His team has taken 55 cancellations — and there are only 12 tables in the whole restaurant. We do fine dining at Prithvi and the average customer will spend around £100, so that’s another £5,500 gone.

Tuesday 7 December

Our waiter at Bao + BBQ was positive for HIV today. He arrived at the restaurant early to take a lateral flow test. 

Fortunately, he has no symptoms and it doesn’t look like he will be too poorly. Like previous staff who had to self-isolate, he will receive £96.35 a week in Statutory Sick Pay. 

Since it has been so long since our last positive case, I am not sure if this will ever be the first.

Staff who test positive and are forced to self-isolate receive £96.35 a week in Statutory Sick Pay

Staff who test positive and are forced to self-isolate receive £96.35 a week in Statutory Sick Pay

Thursday, December 9, 2009

With so many cancellations, we cannot afford to keep our front-of-house team on 38 hours a week — so they have been cut to 25 hours.

As these employees are paid £12 an hour, they will be going home with £300 before tips, rather than £456 — which is a big blow ahead of Christmas. This is not the decision that we wanted, but it is necessary to keep jobs from being cut.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister stated that Plan B would be implemented. This will hopefully result in less cases. But it is almost certain that this will make people more reluctant to eat out short-term.

Friday, December 17,

This is by far the worst day we have had for cancellations so far — 131 diners in total. Our managers are often busy answering calls from customers looking to eat a meal quickly on Friday evenings.

We have not welcomed these last-minute reservations tonight. I suppose it is now two days since Professor Chris Whitty told the nation to ‘prioritise social interactions’. 

I was listening out for announcements about business support, but there wasn’t one. When the press conference began, however, it was hard to be optimistic.

Sunday, December 19, 2009

We have received fantastic news about our Bhoomi restaurant in Oxford — it is going to be featured in the Michelin Guide. This has led to a significant increase in bookings which is very welcome.

Today’s papers are full speculate about the possibility of a lockdown. Part of me wishes this would happen. If we could furlough staff and claim grants, a lockdown would be an improvement and help protect my staff’s jobs.

Monday, December 20,

For now, the wait is over. The Prime Minister ruled out any ‘immediate’ restrictions tonight. 

But that just means we are stuck in this ‘no-man’s land’ where the Government is not shutting us down but won’t help us survive either.

There are still energy, water and supplies bills to be paid and products to purchase. Wages to be paid. We will be forced to reduce our hours if this continues.

Tuesday 21 December

The Chancellor finally has committed to providing some assistance. Of course I would welcome a £6,000 grant, but without knowing which restrictions will be brought in, it is difficult to say how much help this will be.

If we go back to takeaway and outside dining only, our restaurants would suffer a considerable drop in income and I just don’t know whether the grant will be enough to cover our payroll and overheads for the period. 

Our No. The number 1 priority for us is to pay wages. The priority of our employees will remain constant. 

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