Olympics Prompt London’s Chefs to Brace for Boom or Bust

Angela Hartnett and Marcus Wareing
Angela Hartnett and Marcus Wareing are looking forward to the Olympics. They say it should be good for business. Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

With just weeks left until the London 2012 Olympics start on July 27, chefs and restaurateurs are divided on what the Games will mean for business.

Some fret that regular diners will work from home and avoid the center of the city, while road closures mean that deliveries will have to be made during the night. Others expect an influx of visitors keen to explore London’s culinary landscape.

Here’s what 40 industry insiders had to say:

Tom Aikens (Tom Aikens): “We expect to be busy. We’re supporting the London Fair Practice and Pricing Charter, which commits us to maintaining our usual prices and working in an ethical, environmentally sustainable way.”

Joel Antunes (Kitchen Joel Antunes): “I was in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics and business was not good. This time, my plan is to take the opportunity to visit family in France.”

Jason Atherton (Pollen Street Social): “The Olympics will be amazing for London and I’m proud we are hosting them. London will be tough for a few weeks regarding deliveries and also transport for staff getting into central London.”

Pascal Aussignac (Club Gascon): “The Olympic time may bring more business but certainly more difficulties. I hope the Olympic buzz will become a good souvenir for us.”

Will Beckett (Hawksmoor): “Our Seven Dials restaurant will be rammed; Spitalfields: no change; Guildhall: quieter. My guess is that the City will be quiet with office workers staying at home and not being replaced by tourists.”

Vineet Bhatia (Rasoi): “We are expecting a lot more people coming in but as ours is a small restaurant, we will always have a problem fitting them in. A lot of dignitaries and hotel guests will keep the restaurant busy.”

Claude Bosi (Hibiscus): “Expect nothing momentous from the outset, but prepare for being slammed on the day. We’ve extended our opening hours -- last orders now 11 p.m. -- to allow our guests to get back from the events. We’ve picked up on corporate bookings. But we’re expecting delivery costs to go up.”

Richard Corrigan (Corrigan’s Mayfair): “We’re hugely looking forward to the Games. With all the attention on London, and the influx of visitors, it’s an opportunity to showcase all that is good from these islands. We look forward to welcoming visitors to a taste of seasonal British and Irish produce.”

Chris Galvin (Galvin La Chapelle): “Our plans are to be super-flexible. We’ve cross-trained so that we can send staff from one restaurant to another if one gets busy. We want to show the world how good the food and service is in London.”

Alexis Gauthier (Gauthier): “We already have a 50 percent increase in bookings for the Olympics compared to the same period last year. Most are for private rooms, which is unusual for this time of the year. We are not doing anything special for the Games other than accepting euro and dollar notes.”

Stuart Gillies (Gordon Ramsay): “It’s an opportunity for one of the greatest food cities in the world to showcase what we are all about. We are expecting a certain amount of disruption during an unpredictable period but we’ll manage as best we can, and take it all in the spirit of the event.”

Brett Graham (The Ledbury): “The Olympics won’t affect business levels as we are in the fortunate position of being fully booked for every service. The only way it could change things is if customers have a hard time getting here due to public-transport problems.”

Trevor Gulliver (St John Hotel): “Every single sports federation across all sports across the world, every event organizer, politician, agent, sponsor, sponsors’ client, sports lobbyist, celebrity -- if they are on expenses -- they will be here. I’d like to think that some will cross our threshold.”

Des Gunewardena (D&D London): “We’ve already taken lots of bookings from sponsors, national Olympic committees and corporations. It’s clear that we will get a boost to our revenues and I think that this will outweigh the loss of business due to companies advising their staff to stay home.”

Henry Harris (Racine): “It’s not going to be the savior of the restaurant economy that a lot of people think. Many people will be entertained corporately and have their dining taken care of. It will be of assistance but how much, I don’t know. Many people are just going to want a slice of pizza somewhere.”

Sam Hart (Fino): “The Olympics is anyone’s guess. We have no idea what’s going to happen.”

Anna Hansen (Modern Pantry): “Loads of Londoners are going away because they don’t want to be around all the traffic jams and we’ll also have deliveries in the middle of the night. But, because we are a bit East side and because of our price point, I’m hoping we’ll be pretty busy.”

Angela Hartnett (Murano): “I am really excited about the Olympics as I will be working with Smart Hospitality catering to the corporate sponsors. London is going to be buzzing, with the whole world focusing on us, which can only be a good thing for the restaurants, not just this summer but in the future.”

Mark Hix (Tramshed): “It could go either way. The road closures are going to be a nightmare and at each site we are going to have to employ someone to accept deliveries. If the Jubilee is anything to go by, then business will be down.”

Niall Howard (Hakkasan): “It will probably be like the royal wedding last year, when the expectations were high and the reality was mediocre. A lot of people will come to London but others will go away, so it will be neutral.”

Philip Howard (The Square): “I think the Olympics will boost all businesses, but particularly restaurants in the mid-priced bracket.”

Soren Jessen (1 Lombard Street): “A lot of people expect a negative effect, with regulars fleeing town. The sports tourists are not the normal type of clients. We’re lobbying embassies, Olympics committees, sponsors, etc., because if we don’t attract Olympics visitors there will be no business.”

Atul Kochhar (Benares): “The Olympics should be great for the hospitality industry. We are positive about the business during this period.”

Pierre Koffmann (Koffmann’s): “We hope we will be busy but we’ll see. We’re just crossing our fingers. Some places have been booked by big companies so they will be full every day but for us, I don’t know.”

Jeremy Lee (Quo Vadis): “Hopefully, being in Soho, we will see tired and hungry adventurers returned from the easterly Olympic marvels needing a restorative glass and a plate of invigorating sustenance while the few remaining in town carry on as the much ado in the East remains just that.”

Bruno Loubet (Bistrot Bruno Loubet): “Nobody knows. We think breakfast will be popular and then during the day, visitors will be watching the Olympics or walking about the city. The restaurant is likely to get busier again late evening. We are looking to open the kitchen earlier and stay open later.”

Francesco Mazzei (L’Anima): “We believe that the Olympics will have a positive effect on our business. We have some corporate bookings for the period. Also, we’re near Liverpool Street station, which is a short ride to the Games.”

Nuno Mendes (Viajante): “The Olympics will, hopefully, have a positive impact on our business. We are expecting to be busy and we also plan to be open for lunch during this time. There is a great deal of attention in East London and we are right in the middle of it, so it should be fun.”

Russell Norman (Polpo Soho): “Because roads are closed to normal traffic for weeks, we will be employing extra staff at each site to take deliveries. I’m not sure that a sporting event in East London will furnish us with any extra custom and I also fear that our regular customers will get away from London.”

Simon Rogan (Roganic): “It won’t affect Roganic very much as it is tiny and can’t do any more covers than we do already.”

Michel Roux Jr. (Le Gavroche): “We are hoping for the best and expecting the worst as chefs are pretty pessimistic. But I am overjoyed that the Olympics are coming to London. It will be a showcase for Great Britain and a huge success, like the Jubilee.”

David Strauss (Goodman City): “Most visitors may be here just to soak up the atmosphere, which is enjoyable, but results in less profit. The Manchester United versus Barcelona Champions League Final last year was one of the busiest, noisiest, most enjoyable lunches we’ve had and the average spend was rubbish.”

Aggi Sverrisson (Texture): “We expect to be busy. We usually close on Mondays and for the first two weeks in August, but we’re postponing that this year. We already have several private parties booked so we think it will pay off. However, we expect our 28-50 restaurant in Fetter Lane to be fairly quiet.”

Jun Tanaka (Pearl): “The (Chancery Court) hotel has been fully booked during the Olympics for two years. We expect the restaurant to be extremely busy. All the suppliers are delivering before 6 a.m. so I will have one of my chefs working a night shift to check the deliveries and to stay on top.”

Ben Tish (Salt Yard): “We have extra staff around and we have had to look at our delivery times. We hope it’s going to be busy but we already are and we only have so many seats and hours in the day. There could be a lot of people staying and working from home, so this might have a negative effect.”

Ewan Venters (Ex-Selfridges): “We’re enthusiastic about what the Olympics and post-Olympics will do for the city. It will encourage a great number of visitors from across the U.K. and internationally, so we’re optimistic there will be a good volume, which is great for the hospitality industry.”

Marcus Wareing (Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley): “We believe we will definitely see a positive impact, which is why we will be open for lunch on Saturdays throughout the Olympics. This is something we have never done before.”

Alyn Williams (Alyn Williams at the Westbury): “We expect to see an increase in business. Many Olympians and their managers are staying at the Westbury. We have plans for a quick light lunch menu for visitors to eat between events.”

Bryn Williams (Odette’s): “We are a neighborhood restaurant with regular customers, so we are not relying on bookings just because of the Olympics. We have also been approached to cater for large private events taking place during the Games, away from the restaurant.”

Jad Youssef (Yalla Yalla): “The Olympics will keep us busy, especially when people come to celebrate the victory of their countries.”

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include James Pressley on books, Ryan Sutton on New York dining and Zinta Lundborg interviews.

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