In Depth

The last supper: what happens to food that Tier 3 restaurants can’t dish out?

Massive amounts of wastage on menu as tougher coronavirus restrictions imposed in London and southeast regions

Restaurant chefs who expected to feed countless guests over Christmas are facing the prospect of binning their food stocks instead as Tier 3 restrictions come into force in London and much of the Southeast.

Tuesday night saw venues across the capital serving up what has been dubbed “the last supper”, before the new coronavirus regulations took effect at midnight, The Guardian reports. 

But with restaurant doors now closed - and Christmas bookings cancelled - millions of pounds of unused festive food is set to go to waste.

‘Disastrous’ blow

Restaurant owners and staff were given less than 48 hours’ notice of the move into Tier 3, in what industry insiders describe as a “kick in the teeth” by the government, says The Guardian. 

With hundreds of thousands of hospitality jobs already lost as a result of the Covid pandemic, and more than 70% of venue owners fearing permanent closure in 2021, the prospect of throwing away valuable stock is a heavy blow to an already struggling industry.  

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “As with previous short-notice lockdowns, this is going to cause a glut of wasted food and drink. It’s not possible to just turn on and off a hospitality business.

“Beer will go down the drain, fresh food will have to be thrown away and there will be impacts throughout the supply chain of cancelled orders. This stop-start approach to hospitality is disastrous.”

According to the Daily Mail, “one London restaurant owner revealed the move into Tier 3 had already cost him £42,000 in lost bookings, in addition to a week's worth of wasted stock, and The Breakfast Group chain said it would lose up to £50,000 of fresh food and drink”.

Freezing assets 

Not all of the unused food will be thrown away, with many restaurants offering delivery and takeaway services while Tier 3 restrictions are in place.

Some produce can also be frozen, albeit for limited amounts of time. 

Following yesterday’s “last supper”, restaurants have been busy “vacuum-packing fresh food and scouring their freezers for space”, says The Guardian. 

“We were due to have full restaurants this week, including booked-out private dining rooms, and we had ordered a load of produce in,” Ben Tish, culinary director of Norma in Fitzrovia and the Game Bird at The Stafford hotel in Green Park, told the paper.  

“We were also booked up on Christmas Day at The Stafford - with about 100 guests due - and had already ordered and received 100 lobster tails costing about £25 each. Those will freeze but not for long. 

“We have also got a lot of special ingredients which we love to serve during the festive period – truffles, for example. These don’t freeze, so that’s another financial loss.”

Redistribution and donations 

Many restaurants have announced that surplus food that can’t be frozen will be given to staff to take home or donated to charities, food banks and other good causes. 

Middle Eastern restaurant Le Bab, in London’s Carnaby Street, told that Mail yesterday that “the company will be doing the same thing we did during the first lockdown. Everything left over in this restaurant and our sister restaurant in Covent Garden tonight will be cooked and donated to NHS staff.”

Meanwhile, the UK’s largest food redistribution charity, FareShare, is diverting resources to cope with the “torrent of donations from the hospitality and food service sectors ”, The Guardian reports.

Lindsay Boswell, FareShare’s chief executive, said: “We have a robust infrastructure and more capacity than ever before, and as demonstrated throughout the Covid-19 crisis we were ready to work immediately with the food industry and charities… to ensure that no good food goes to waste.”

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