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Bouncing Back Q&A: Des Gunewardena, D&D London

Published:  10 August, 2021

It’s been a one-of-a-kind 18 months for the trade. Here, as we begin to push into the second half of the second year of the pandemic, Harpers is catching up with businesses to find out how they’re focusing on recovering from the shock, and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead.

We continue our series with views from Des Gunewardena, CEO of D&D London.  

How ‘back to normal’ are you as a business? 
Last week, on a like-for-like basis we were at roughly pre-Covid levels of revenue overall. And that’s still with private and corporate events only just starting to pick up. So, I expect us to be trading well ahead of pre-Covid in September.
What are your priorities and predictions for the second half of 2021?
I think September to December will see a very strong bounce back in business, with the release of pent-up demand for corporate and private events adding to the strong leisure spend we are already experiencing.
What kind of Christmas are you anticipating and how are you prepping?
Hopefully we are going to have our best ever Christmas. Two years’ worth of partying to make up for last year’s lost Christmas!
Do you anticipate making a full recovery from the pandemic? What timeframes are realistic?
Trading will make a full recovery very quickly, and for à la carte business we are already trading above pre-Covid levels. But most businesses have very substantial Covid debt to repay. It will probably take us until mid-2022 to get our finances back to where they were in March 2020.
But Covid has also thrown up opportunities for improvement and expansion, so as a business overall I think in a year’s time we will be in much better shape this time next year than we were pre-Covid.
How heavily have you been impacted by staffing issues? 
As for everybody, staffing has been our biggest operational challenge – not just because of fewer staff returning to us post-lockdown, but also because of Covid and the 'pingdemic' of staff having to self-isolate because of potential contacts with people catching Covid. We have launched lots of initiatives to attract more staff to D&D including our Summer Schools to train staff with little or no hospitality experience. We are currently running our second week-long School and will have employed 60-70 people from this initiative so far.
Are you anticipating more Covid-related restrictions?
I hope not! But if we do have to face them, we and our customers are ready. The main thing is that we avoid future lockdowns.
How have drinking habits changed post-lockdown? 
Customers are in a great mood, with lots of reunions of friends who haven’t seen each other since Covid lockdowns and so there’s been a very celebratory atmosphere in our restaurants. In Coq d’Argent, we’ve had to significantly increase our investment in fine wines, particularly Bordeaux and Burgundy. Average spends in most of our restaurants are also well up on 2019.
Lastly, if you could make one change in government tomorrow, what would you choose?
I would significantly ease the process of attracting talent from overseas, particularly to fill the huge gaps in mid-skilled staff (chefs de parties, head waiters etc) needed to run our restaurants. For example, I would extend the youth mobility scheme visa to include European countries on a reciprocal basis, a two-year visa (tier 5) for 18- to 30-year-olds with no other criteria attached. 
Restaurants are a massive driver, not only of employment but also of quality of everyday life which in turn drives investment, tourism, etc.
Quick-fire questions:
France, Spain or Italy?
USA or OZ?
Port or Sherry?
Neither, Armagnac or sweet wine
English bubbles or Champagne?
Go-to drink to watch watching the tennis / football?
Pimm’s for tennis, Peroni for football


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