The café business is on its knees. The least we can do is be caring

This week I have finally returned to writing about eating in restaurants, and if there’s one thing the experience confirmed for me it is that the hospitality industry needs our kindness. As I explain in today’s column, I’ve decided that, for the foreseeable future, that there will be no negative reviews. If I come across a duff place, I’ll simply chalk it up to experience and move on to somewhere better.

It’s an acknowledgement that the restaurant sector is on its knees. At the best of times, even the most successful businesses operate like fragile financial conveyor belts. They need a constant flow of cash in one end from diners so they can keep paying rent, suppliers and staff at the other. These are not the best of times. The lockdown destroyed any cash reserves, and social distancing has taken a massive bite out of their income, which has not been matched by a drop in overheads.

It’s why there was so much support for the chef Tom Kerridge when he ranted about the failure of 27 people to show up for the tables they had booked one night last week. His restaurant at London’s Corinthia Hotel is nobody’s idea of cheap, but it supports a lot of people on modest wages. All those no-shows put all those much-needed jobs in peril.

In turn, that has led to calls for diners to be charged deposits when they book. I’ve spoken to very few chefs and restaurateurs who actively want to do this. They are in the hospitality business and it feels inhospitable. But in the current circumstances they can see no other way, and I have to agree with them.

Sure, the industry needs to be upfront about the challenges it is facing. For example, if restaurants don’t pass on the recently announced reduction in VAT for the hospitality industry, they need to explain why. In return, we as diners need to understand the challenges that the restaurant industry is facing. We need to be patient and, yes, kind. Or at least we do if we want our favourite restaurants to stay open.