On Monday 9th March, our Brand Director Ian sent this to the 120-strong KERB trader membership pool. It was received warmly with lots of positivity and support from the traders.

Hello KERB,

Unless you’ve been living under a rock/street food van/pile of brioche buns these past few weeks, you’ll have all seen the commentary on Coronavirus and its potential impact on our industry. Much of this has been pessimistic, worst-case scenarios, spelling doomsday-esque outcomes for independent businesses in London, with far too many negative soundbites appearing across social media and expert commentary. We are fully aware of the risks but are today coming out on the front foot and declaring KERB open for business.

I had a great email come in on Friday from a guy much older than all of us (for once, not Simon Mitchell…), who’d been active across the London food scene in 2003 at the time of the SARS outbreak. He now works as a chef and in restaurant marketing:

“How are sales this week? I was out last night and everything seems really quiet.

I’ve been talking to a few people this morning who don’t remember the SARS pandemic in 2003. I was working in Smithfield’s for a city catering company that ran restaurants and catering in city venues. I was also working alongside Madame Tussauds and overseas visitor numbers dropped off a cliff.   

The restaurants got very quiet and events started cancelling (and postponing) but this only lasted 12 weeks and then everything bounced back. It was the businesses who made the most marketing noise during the quiet time that recovered fastest.

But also life continued. People did still go out it was just a bit of a fight to get them to come to us.”

We think this is a great tone to set. 

With that, we’re writing to you today to say that until we hear otherwise – that is that until the government enforce curfews, containment or anything else of that ilk – KERB will remain open for business and actively pushing for more and better opportunities across all that we do. We encourage you to do the same, and set a bold, positive tone across your comms and staff to retain customer confidence.

We will continue to champion you and your interests and will push harder than ever to convince Londoners to come to our markets and book our catering for events. Practically speaking, this may require us all to be more agile and flexible. We may need to hustle more than ever before to keep events in the calendar, or ensure you receive some payment for those already booked. 

But we think there is at present no reason for the level of fearmongering across the industry and much of the negativity on show is only going to further talk down prospects of a solid recovery and stable businesses. Londoners will still need to eat, want to socialise and go out, even if international inbound flights drop off a little.

For KERB to remain open we need your support.

On markets, we ask you all to:

    • Consider public perception of the industry’s cleanliness absolutely key. Street food has an unfair, long-standing reputation for being a little shaky in its hygiene. Let us please put this to bed. This means ensuring handwashing happens more than ever, with fully functional, hot running handwash systems a minimum on all units. We propose you all wear gloves as standard – again as a perception piece – and will be having market managers check frequently that this in play.

    • Consider the health of you and your staff. If any of you are exhibiting symptoms, please don’t come to trade at a public market. Any with visible illnesses will be sent home as a precaution. Please also be diligent with your staff so the market managers aren’t left to make these calls themselves. We are announcing a drop out fee amnesty for all trader flu-like illness until we confirm otherwise to support you in this.

On catering, we ask you all to:

    • Understand we have your best interests at heart. We are fighting on all fronts to ensure booked events either go ahead as planned, or that we secure some form of compensation for those cancelled by the client. Our team have been amazing here so far and will continue to hold a firm line on all existing bookings. However, please do appreciate every contract and scenario is different so it is impossible to guarantee you will receive 100% of job values, but know that we will always secure the most we can. We are in this together – if we get paid, you will get paid, if we don’t, you don’t.

    • Be ready to be flexible. To secure up-and-coming bookings, we may need to flex our policies in order to win the contract and keep events contracting. We will always communicate these at the booking stage, but please be ready to be open-minded about the deals we do bring to the table.

    • Be ready to diversify. Some parts of our industry may, in a worst case scenario, be more hit than others; events, festivals, public markets…who knows which will bear the brunt. If all your eggs are firmly in one of these baskets, do consider spreading your activities out across the multiple avenues and opportunities this industry holds, to minimise risk.

On comms, we ask you all to:

    • Remain positive, human and approachable. Dish it up straight but think about how to sell yourselves and the wider industry in the process – encourage faith, confidence and human connection.

    • Join us in publicly supporting the many things that we do. We have been talking to multiple industry figures about a larger campaign to encourage support for the food industry, but will begin with personal opinion pieces sitting on our socials from tomorrow. Please join the debate, share your own experiences and chime in positively on the need for public support.

In the meantime, we continue to monitor the WHO’s and the government’s guidelines and are aware this is an ever-evolving issue. If the worst happens, we will flex our communal might politically and back calls for the likes of VAT drops and business rates holidays, and look at joining forces on a wider piece across the food industry to best serve your interests. 

But, if as we believe, this will blow over at nowhere near the level the most negative voices are currently predicting, we will continue to push for more and greater opportunities for your business to flourish across the spring, summer and beyond.

We’ve posted this on Slack too so please do join in the conversation there – we’d love to hear your experiences and positive suggestions on how to ride this out.