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Harbour Lights closes restaurant for the foreseeable future

Harbour Lights in Falmouth, Cornwall, has closed its restaurant for the foreseeable future following Saturday’s lockdown announcement.

The restaurant had only reopened to customers in early September, following a five-month closure which saw it miss the busy summer season and the government’s Eat Out to Help Out Scheme. It was operating at 50% its normal capacity due to social distancing restrictions when it shut on Sunday evening.

Owner Pete Fraser hopes it could be back open for the Christmas but fears it could be as late as Easter.

Pete comments: “We opened the restaurant early September, we didn’t rush to open because Cornwall gets swamped in the summer and I just didn’t think we could control tourists as well as we could control locals.

“We reduced numbers right down in the restaurant from 90 to about 45 and we were operating well above break-even point, so it was great to be able to provide staff with hours and make a little bit of money.

“We could have traded on to Thursday this week, but last time when the lockdown was announced the numbers dwindled straight away and there’s nothing worse than a restaurant with very few people in. We are in the hospitality industry, if a restaurant is open I like it to have a reasonable number in so it has an atmosphere. I just didn’t want dwindling numbers this week.”

Although Pete hopes to have the restaurant operational again by Christmas, being a seasonal business he is well aware it may come much later. He adds: “In all honesty, I don’t know when it will end. I know there will be more people down to Cornwall over Christmas if they are allowed to travel, so I hope to be open again for the Christmas holiday but, if not, we would then move on to Easter time, so maybe mid-March.

“Harbour Lights is such a seasonal business, our trade in August is five times what it is in January. We make our money when Cornwall is well-populated.”

The takeaway, which closed for just four weeks during the initial lockdown, will remain open with Pete hoping the volume of walk-ins, along with customers increasingly using its click and collect and delivery services, will go some way to making up the shortfall.

Pete adds: “Thankfully, the takeaway has been booming. I’m very happy with how that is performing so I do think we’ll have a busier winter for takeaway than previous years. The public mindset has changed and they would far prefer, while this virus is around, to be eating food out in the open or in their own homes, rather than sitting in a restaurant. I can only see our takeaway performance being better than any previous year.”

As a result of the increased takeaway trade, sales have remained buoyant at around two-thirds of what Harbour Lights would achieve in a normal year. Another positive for the Cornish business is that profit margins have improved since the restaurant and takeaway reopened.

Pete explains: “I’ve had to totally rethink our business. I look at what the Americans call Prime Cost, so I look at the cost of goods plus the cost of payroll, and the percentages we are achieving on that is better than anything we’ve achieved before.”

It’s not enough for Pete to call time on the restaurant, however, and he is adamant it will reopen, adding: “It’s too much a part of our business for us not to reopen, and I really like running a restaurant. It fits my character and the character of my shop, I want to provide hospitality.”

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