Yotam Ottolenghi pleads for rent relief to save restaurant industry
Legendary chef joins many in asking for extension to rent holiday for restaurants
Yotam Ottolenghi, TV chef, author, and restaurateur, has become the most high profile chef to join a plea for the government to implement short- and medium-term measures that could prevent the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) from wiping out the UK restaurant industry.
Yotam has written a Guardian article in which he explains the dilemma facing restaurants across the country. They are in, he writes, a "perilous situation". "With zero income and the future uncertain, we simply don’t have any cash to spare," he says.
Ottolenghi acknowledges the relief offered by the government, whose furlough scheme means they are "fortunate enough to be able to pay our staff while they are at home."
However, there is a sticking point that remains an issue for most restaurants: rent.
"Though some landlords have made private arrangements with tenants to forgo rent payments for a certain period, most are demanding their quarterly transfers. For businesses with zero income, this is a kiss of death."
The demands of rent will drive countless restaurants into irredeemably large debts, and these will be their downfall.
This, Ottolenghi writes, is not only a loss for the business owners, landlords and of course the staff, but for the restaurant community more widely. Restaurants are "vibrant community institutions" and "hubs of social interaction". They are "centres of knowledge and creativity" that "lead the way in progressive and sustainable ways of cooking and serving food".
As far as Ottolenghi is concerned, the instruction to close has introduced a factor that interrupts the clauses of their tenancy agreements:
"In legal terms, our leases normally declare that we must operate restaurants on the sites we occupy. But we are now prohibited from doing so by the government. How can we be expected to pay rent as normal when the fundamentals of our leases with our landlords have been eradicated?"
Subsequently, Yotam addresses the government directly and asks for further relief:
"I call on the government to step in once more and fix this anomaly. The wholesale collapse of a vibrant and sound sector, under a rent and debt squeeze, will benefit no one, landlords included."
He suggests "a total debt-enforcement moratorium for the next six months.” This means an extension of the the forfeiture moratorium – the emergency COVID-19 legislation that prevents landlords from evicting tenants only until 30 June. In addition, he says that the government should implement a debt enforcement moratorium to prevent landlords from strong-arming tenants with legal threats, winding-up petitions, and bailiffs.