To understand more about the impact of COVID-19 on our clients and the local Brighton community, we have decided to ask them some questions.
Next up we have David Toscano at Cin Cin, an Italian Bar and Kitchen restaurant in Brighton and Hove.
When did COVID-19 affect your business and was it immediate or gradual?
As a restaurant, we had a long, painful lead time into shutdown. It all started with the ‘super spreader’ in Brighton in the second week of February 2020, which put the city on edge. Many restaurants, including mine, were already reporting increased cancellations that month, some expressly due to fears about COVID. For us, we saw our turnover drop 10% w/c 25/2, then 22% w/c 3/3, then 35% w/c 10/3 … worst of all, while we were dealing with this the Govt actively discouraged people from going to restaurants and pubs but did not direct us to close. That has had an effect on what I can recover from my insurers for loss of profits. In the end, the direction to shut down on 20 March was a weird relief.
How did you communicate this impact with your team and clients?
I met with all staff on 14 March to agree contingency plans, safe working practices, etc and to try to stay positive. Then on 17 March, we had to shut our Vine St restaurant as it is 20 seats all close together in one room so we’d lost almost 40% of our trade the week before. I met with all my staff again, told them that our hourly rated staff would have no more hours for the foreseeable future, that salaried staff would all work at the Western Road restaurant that week, and that I might not be able to pay all of their wages for that month on time – staff were distraught. Thankfully the JRS was announced later that week and they were then furloughed under that scheme.
What decisions have you had to take in respect of your business?
I had to make hard and fast decisions on which direct debits to switch off, which suppliers to prioritise in repaying first, and which staff to bring off furlough first. I’ve also had to keep Vine Street closed as we cannot reopen it safely and we immediately started a Cin Cin At Home delivery service out of our Western Road restaurant. All of this on less than skeleton staff. It has been a horribly difficult and exhausting time.
Have you accessed or will you be accessing any of the Government support schemes and grants?
Yes, we received the relevant grants at each site and have also accessed the Bounce Back loan scheme.
Do you think the Government support goes far enough?
The Government should be commended for putting support in place very quickly but I worry that their broad brush approach is wasting a lot of money that could be targeted to the sectors and size of businesses that need it most. A lot of big chains did not need the furlough bonus but will pocket millions for staff they would have kept on in any event. Also, the Government has dodged the issue of commercial rents. The moratorium has given us breathing room but landlords still expect all outstanding rent to be paid this year even though we have lost more than a third of our annual turnover since March. Come the end of the moratorium on 30 September, if there is no extension or no scheme to replace it, landlords will start evicting tenants for non payment of rent.
What effect will this pandemic have your business in the long term?
It has accelerated the demand for food and drink by delivery, so we are trying to keep up with that. It will also hollow out city centres so I worry about when footfall will return there when offices are deciding to work remotely. We are just looking to survive this year for now. Looking any further ahead is almost impossible.
Do you have a crisis management plan now in place?
I am the crisis manager in the business!
What decisions are being made now for when you are able to get back up and running?
We have just reopened our Western Road restaurant with limited seating, online booking only, and starting with Friday and Saturday dinners only. We are maintaining our Cin Cin At Home delivery service and trying to add services for when we can have customers in the restaurant.
How do you think the business landscape will change in Brighton?
I worry for the city centre. Many businesses are downsizing and questioning the need for office space so that will have a knock on effect on footfall for retail as well as food and drink.
What tips can you give other businesses currently going through the crisis?
Focus on what you can plan for and achieve this month and next. Try not to get bogged down in worrying what will happen next year as the landscape is still changing weekly. And be kind to yourself. It’s incredibly difficult to be a business owner at the moment so if you have made it this far, that is an achievement to be proud of. Give yourself a pat on the back for that at least!
Author: David Toscano @ Cin Cin
Date Published: 21 July 2020