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Coronavirus starting to disrupt trade

The impact of coronavirus is being felt within the fish and chip industry with reports of restaurant and takeaway trade dropping while click and collect and deliveries are growing.

It follows data that reveals coronavirus has caused a 26% year-on-year drop in footfall on the high street.

Fred Capel, owner of Chez Fred in Bournemouth, has seen a 10% drop in trade this week despite the weather being prime for fish and chips. He comments: “We’ve noticed a real dip this week, it’s the first time. It’s more so in the restaurant, people don’t want to be in the premises too long.

“In trade terms, yesterday was noticeable so I think within the next couple of days we are going to see that continue. The weather is good down here, in a normal week this would be really good fish and chips weather, so if we’re quiet we know it’s down to one thing.”

The takeaway’s click and collect service, whereby customers can order ahead, is increasingly being used, however, with Monday seeing a significant uptake in orders. Fred adds: “People want to come in and go out.”

Going to extra measures to sanitise door handles and credit card machines every half an hour, he adds: “Paranoid is the wrong word but we’re trying to be diligent and do what we can to minimise any risk.”

Fred welcomes Wednesday’s budget in which it was announced business rates would be abolished this year for small companies, adding: “That is going to be worth quite a lot to me. If I have to shut for two weeks, that will cover a lot of my costs.”

In Whitby, where businesses rely heavily on tourism, the effect is also being felt as tourists and the elderly stay home.

Stuart Fusco, owner of several chip shops in the town including Quayside and Royal Fisheries, says he's seen a drop in customer numbers across both the restaurant and takeaway: “We’re tending not to see a lot of the older population out. Wednesday is normally a big day for bus trips, it’s a really busy day for us and they simply aren’t there. It is having a significant effect.

“We’re a few weeks to a month behind on what we should be doing trade-wise because of the number of people that should be about and aren’t.

“As a business and as an employer, it is a worry, we rely on tourism. We were hoping with Brexit encouraging staycations we would have a bumper year this year. But there’s no point getting mad or frustrated by it, we’ve just got to ride it out.”

It too is seeing an increase in click and collect orders placed via its Royal Fisheries app launched just before Christmas.

“It was increasing anyway but the past week or so it’s snowballed as people don’t want to wait in queues, they just want to walk in, pick up their food and go,” says Stuart. “It’s good because it means we’re still getting the local trade.”

"Customers are being more cautious. They are looking more at hygiene ratings and what you’re doing behind the counter"

At Burton Road Chippy in Lincoln, owner Lesley Graves says it’s business as usual and while there’s been no negative impact on trade so far, she feels hygiene practices are under scrutiny more than ever. She comments: “Customers are being more cautious. They are looking more at hygiene ratings and what you’re doing behind the counter.

“We’ve put extra measures in place, we’ve increased staff training and doubled the amount of hand washing.

“We’ve always not set tables until people have arrived and we also remove all the condiments from the table and wipe them down when someone leaves. We’ve always considered those things best practice.”

The chippy has seen a rise of just under 10% in deliveries this week. Lesley comments: “What’s interesting is that it’s new custom, it’s not affected the restaurant and takeaway. I do think it’s a result of coronavirus. People are thinking ‘do we want to go out? Let’s look at who's delivering’.”

Many operators are still yet to report any negative impacts, but are concerned about the weeks ahead. Simone Varese, director for Blue Lagoon, which operates 13 stores in and around Glasgow, comments: "We are not seeing much impact on trade as of yet thankfully. It has been business as usual up to now but I dare say that will change over the coming days should things continue to get worse.

"We are getting worried, yes. If Scotland was to be put into an Italy-style shutdown then how are employers expected to survive paying rent,rates and wages while not getting a penny through the door?"

Craig Buckley, owner of Crewe Fish Bar and Hooked, two takeaways in Chester, hasn't seen a drop in footfall either and comments: “Generally I haven't seen a knock on and I can’t even say it’s something customers are really talking about. I was 10% quieter last week but I think that’s normal for this time of the year.”

With many Chinese takeaways and restaurants reportedly down, Craig sees a potential opportunity for fish and chips, adding: “The general consensus is that Chinese is dropping off in terms of how busy they are but that’s where fish and chips can benefit. We need to hammer home that fish and chips is a pure product and that it has nothing really added to it. Over the years it’s been chipped away at by other cuisines, but now it’s almost gone full circle and fish and chips is coming around again.”

Figures published yesterday show that there are 590 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.

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