Tom Kerridge: 'The reality is that cheap food does not exist'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

For chef and restaurateur Tom Kerridge, last week's Spring Statement was particularly unhelpful for Tom kerridge restaurants and hospitality operators and businesses across the board 

As well as VAT rates returning to their previous rate of 20 percent, utility bills and general costs are skyrocketting, to the point, he said, that "some companies aren't even quoting for a year because they don't know where it's going to be in a year's time. It's going to be a case of doubling or maybe even trebling our utility bills - which is massive."

All of the rising costs apply to producers and suppliers, who will be forced to raise their prices in turn, and  hospitality businesses are likely to pass these on to diners, too. 

Tom Kerridge restaurants There ain't no such thing as a free lunch

"It's inevitable that costs will be passed on to guests," Tom said. "I can't see any other way of doing it. There aren't very many businesses that have got the cash funds that have been able to survive the last two years for them to be able to absorb the rising costs." Operators who do choose to take on the cost hike run the risk of seeing their restaurants close.

"Those are going to be the real life decisions that businesses are going to have to take," he added.

In previous crises, price hikes have been specific to particular regions or sectors of the economy, but this time, it's different - produce, energy, staff, everywhere operators turn there is an added cost.

"It's affecting high-street pizza restaurants the same as it is top-end Michelin star restaurants." As a consequence, "we have to view eating out as a little bit more luxurious - even at the entry-level market places," he said.

In due course, the chef believes that the industry needs to adjust and re-evaluate the how it's going to work its way through the next decade.

"The reality is that cheap food does not exist," he said.

As for the possibility that the Treasury might deliver better policies for the industry come autumn, such as tax reforms or energy price caps, Tom is yet to be convinced.

"I have absolutely no faith or confidence in this government." 

To his mind, the government has done nothing to curtail the effects of Brexit on the food and hospitality industries, nor has it got a plan to tackle inflation, only exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

"So no matter what this government says they're going to do, I have absolutely no faith that they will operate with hospitality in the forefront of their mind."

Where to go from here

While it is easy to feel powerless in the face of such difficulties, Tom is among those still fighting the industry's corner in discussions with the government - namely, lobbying for lower tax rates for hospitality. 

What's more, he said, "we do keep driving for and talking about a minister for hospitality," because "this government does not value small businesses, and the knock-on effect between small hospitality businesses and farming, agriculture, fisheries, it's massive." 

"I'm almost at a loss of what to do - I don't feel that this government is paying any attention to anybody apart from themselves."

Don't give in to the illusion of 'cheap' produce

The industry is rightly readjusting to the current circumstances, and though it is unfortunate, it is serving the country's interests by keeping prices fair for the whole supply chain.

While the alternative is tempting, Tom added, "we cannot continue to offer cheap options, opening seven day weeks, 14 shifts, trying to serve lunch and dinner. Our choices will become less."

Businesses must stay strong in their opposition to the poor quality produce flooding the British market as a result of Brexit. 

"Budget places will still try to operate at a budget level by buying much cheaper produce from overseas and not supporting British farming - it's this really horrible perfect storm of everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

"It doesn't appear that this government are paying attention to people in this industry who have been trying to speak to them over the past four-five years since Brexit."

The chef wishes he had a more positive message to emit, but given the disregard the industry has been held in by our current government, he said, "it's going to be a very difficult couple of years."

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 29th March 2022

Tom Kerridge: 'The reality is that cheap food does not exist'