Big Mamma: "We are appalled at how the UK Government has handled this crisis"

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Big Mamma: "We are appalled at how the UK Government has handled this crisis" Coronavirus

Related tags Big Mamma Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme tronc Restaurant UnitedWeStand Italian restaurant chain

Big Mamma co-founder Victor Lugger says he is appalled at how the UK Government has managed the crisis within the hospitality sector caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking on BigHospitality​'s latest UnitedWeStand podcast, Lugger says the UK Government's decision not to allow tronc payments to be included in its furlough scheme is wrong and unjustified. 

"It's insane," he says. "We are one of the few sectors that has been officially been shutdown, along with retail, and the people in our industry have been shot in the head by the Government. And what's worse, it took them seven weeks before they officially reached that decision to not include the tronc."

Lugger is so frustrated that he says Big Mamma may actually row back on its UK expansion plans; the Government’s poor track record during the Coronavirus crisis leading to greater uncertainty, for him, over how it will handle Brexit.

“We entered this crisis as a strong company, and that has not changed,” he says. “However, the way the Government has handled the [Coronavirus] crisis in the UK has put us o pushing forward with further development in the UK until we know more about Brexit.”

Big Mamma, which was founded in Paris and operates several trattorias across France, currently has two restaurants in London: Gloria in Shoreditch, and Circolo Popolare in Fitzrovia.

The group had submitted plans to add a third site to its UK estate in Covent Garden and has been looking at other areas of London for potential sites. It was also exploring the idea of opening a food market in the capital. 

However, having been disappointed in the Government’s approach to the pandemic, Lugger says any plans the group did have are now on hold.

“Having failed to realise the need to include tronc in the Job Retention Scheme, and given how vague the rules, procedures and advice to the public has been, it’s clear this Government is not handling the situation smartly,” he says. “And that means I have no reason to think they’d handle the Brexit situation any differently."

For now, though, Lugger's main focus is on being able to reopen his restaurants. Both Gloria and Circolo have begun offering delivery and click-and-collect; and next Tuesday (2 June), the group will reopen its Carmelo restaurant in the French city of Lyon for dine-in customers.

With a reduced social distancing contact gap of one metre in France (the British Government currently insists on two metres), Lugger says he expects to still reach around 80% of capacity at the restaurant.

"We're preparing for it now," he says. "Our feeling is that even with a reduced capacity in the restaurant and social distancing in the kitchen, we will still be able to offer customers the same experience. Of course, that capacity depends on the size and layout of the individual restaurant. But what we've seen in our calculations is that across all 12 of our restaurants, we'll on average be able to retain a 75% eat-in capacity."

Despite his optimism regarding the reopening, Lugger does acknowledge that the redesign of his restaurant's seating plans will incur extra costs, with plastic shields currently built to allow for greater social distancing between tables. 

"I'm not saying it's great; I'm not even saying it's good; but what I am saying is that, providing we continue to receive the right support, we can make it work."

#UnitedWeStand​​​ has been created by William Reed hospitality titles BigHospitality, Restaurant magazine and Morning Advertiser and is supported by Britvic, CocaCola European Partners and Unilever Food Solutions.

To download this podcast via iTunes, click here​.

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