There will be no record-breaking queues outside fish and chip shops this Good Friday as the coronavirus lockdown continues. Normally one of the busiest days of the year for the fish and chip industry and the day that kickstarts a lot of businesses’ busy season, many shop owners are readying themselves to celebrate this Good Friday at home rather than behind their range. Colmans of South Shields is notorious for its hour-long queues that snake out the door and far down Ocean Road this time of year. However, this Easter, the shutters will be firmly down, a decision owner Richard Ord Snr has found distressing.
“Since 1926, our shop has been open every Good Friday," says Richard. "It’s our busiest day of the year, it’s our busiest weekend of the year, so from a financial point of view it's very upsetting. But it’s also upsetting for all our staff and our customers.” But Richard is confident he’s doing the right thing by staying shut, adding: “It’s the only thing we can do right now, we can’t be selling fish and chips in this current climate. Shops should not be open. How can you work in a fish and chip shop and stay 6ft apart and make sure the customers do too? We would do it if we could, but there’s no way we could guarantee it and if we can’t guarantee the safety of our customers and staff, we aren’t going to do it.” Any other year, Tony Forgioni, owner of Captain’s in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, would be in two hours earlier to prep 50% more fish, peel extra potatoes and make additional tartare sauce for the hundreds of people that would be coming through the doors. However, this year he’ll be staying home and cooking fish and chips for two. Tony comments: “I have never ever had a Friday off - unless I’m on holiday and even then I try to take the least amount of Fridays I can - especially a Good Friday so this year is a strange one. I won’t know what to do with myself, although my wife has already said that I need to cook fish and chips at home.” Making the decision to remain closed is the socially responsible thing to do at this time, says Tony, especially knowing how busy a Good Friday is. “Trying to keep people apart and safe would be really hard,” Tony explains. “And why do we want to encourage people to make an unnecessary journey just to get one meal on that day when they could go to the supermarket and get food for a week? We wanted to try and do our bit for the NHS and really give this three-week lockdown a chance. At a time like this, profit doesn’t come into making this decision, health does.” Sarah Heward, owner of The Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum, Perthshire, is also finding the closure of her restaurant and takeaway agonising.
A predominantly tourist-based destination, her business will feel the full financial impact of the closure. Sarah explains: “Good Friday is a big day for the fish and chip industry, but it’s about more than that for us. Easter really kickstarts our cashflow. Between now and October is when we make all our profit. “We’ve been through every kind of emotion - fear, panic, exhaustion, tiredness - but I have now accepted what I can’t change. To me it’s black and white, it’s not a complicated decision, the safety of our staff and customers has to come first. What’s difficult is working out how we’re going to look after our team, not just financially but pastorally too.”
Not all shops are closed, however. Many are following government advice to stay open, albeit operating from behind closed doors with click and collect and delivery services in place. One of those businesses is Harbourside in Plymouth, which reopened on Tuesday in preparation for Good Friday. Offering click and collect from one unit and Deliveroo from another, trade levels will be a drop in the ocean compared with the usual number of customers. Owner Sarah Lock explains: “We’ll be serving one customer per five minutes. However, we usually have a queue and serve twice as many customers. “We feel it’s important to be open to keep the economy going and serve people with traditional fish and chips in a safe working environment.” Fiddlers Elbow in Leintwardine, Herefordshire, is also offering a different experience this year with owners Dominic Eusden and Linzi Morris introducing a safe, no contact delivery service with orders placed and paid for via its website. Linzi comments: “It is hard to predict how busy it is going to be this year and it will be a very different. It is normally one of the busiest days of the year for us. We are still anticipating it will be busy albeit rather reduced. Orders are taking a bit longer now too as we are doing the deliveries ourselves. We are covering a four-mile radius. “We felt it was very important to stay open so we could carry on serving our community, especially the elderly, vulnerable and anyone who is, or needs to be, self-isolating. We might be the only people that they have had contact within days, so it’s not just a delivery service to us.” Managing to stay open for deliveries has softened the financial blow for the small takeaway, with Linzi adding: “We are able to pay the smaller bills but unfortunately not the larger ones. If we had needed to take the decision to close, we would be in a much worse position. Some money is better than no money.” Krispies in Exmouth, Devon, reopened for click and collect and deliveries last week after a three-week closure. Owner Kelly Barnes said: “We shut for nearly three weeks to be able to regroup and decide if we could reopen again safely. We then decided as there was four of us in the same household who all work at the shop that we could reopen for deliveries only in a safe manner “Compared to other Good Fridays, especially last year as that was our year winning National Fish & Chip Shop of the Year, it won’t be anywhere near as busy. But, honestly, being able to open and serve people makes us extremely happy.” Reopening was a matter of survival, with Kelly, adding: “I’m going to be really honest, if we didn’t reopen, we might not have had a business to come back to at all. “We’ve had two refits in the last 18 months and we needed to make the right choice to save the business and our family home. We have worked so hard, like a lot of people in the trade, to grow a brand and it was a very tough decision to shut. “I will make one thing clear though if I had to use staff to open the kitchen at the moment it wouldn’t be happening. I feel we are a long way from being able to offer click and collect safely personally we feel we are a few weeks away from that yet. Mainly because that would involve others.” It is anticipated more fish and chip shops will reopen with click and collect and delivery models after Easter as the fear of a further lockdown puts pressure on already struggling businesses.