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Coronavirus: Stormont has left restaurant trade in the dark over what to do, says chef Deane

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Anger: Michael Deane

Anger: Michael Deane

Anger: Michael Deane

One of Northern Ireland's best-known chefs has warned that restaurants that close too early because of the coronavirus outbreak may never open their doors again - and a lack of leadership from Stormont will be to blame.

Michael Deane said that restaurant owners are getting increasingly frustrated at the lack of guidance being received by the hospitality sector, but said he would keep his restaurants open until told otherwise.

"If restaurants close, we have to close together. There should be leadership on this and it's starting to get annoying that there isn't," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I admire the restaurants that have already closed and I admire the ones that are staying open, but this just shows a complete lack of communication from Stormont on what we should do.

"The timing is crucial on this and we need advice. We have to prepare ourselves, particularly if we have to close for six weeks, two months, whatever.

"We have staff to look after, they have mortgages and bills to pay. We have suppliers to look after as well, there's a whole chain of people affected and I have to keep staff morale up in what are incredibly difficult times for everyone in the country.

"At the end of the day the health of my staff, 200 people, is what's most important and we are ready to close the doors when we're told it's not safe to stay open.

"Until then, if I have 60 seats, I'll be happy to take in 30 people and space them out if that's what it takes.

"But we are in the front line here, people coming through our doors daily. A big issue has been made about schools, but as far as I see it that's not the most important issue right now.

"Some restaurants in the city centre have already closed their doors and there is a fear in the industry that those doors may not open again.

"I saw what happened in Portugal. All the restaurants made a collective decision to close at the same time. That's the sort of organisation we need here, but we're not seeing it. That has to come from the top. I feel for anyone in business who has to make the decision to close and we're not all going to make the right one."

At Deane and Decano on the Lisburn Road, Michael said preparations are already under way to make sure customers get the best food Northern Ireland has to offer delivered direct to their door.

"We're putting together a menu of 10-12 dishes on a home delivery service. We'll take orders in the morning for evening meals. As an industry we all have to do whatever we can to try to keep going. Whatever happens, it's going to take a long, long time to recover."

Ox Belfast is among the top Belfast restaurants already closing its doors. It said: "A restaurant is only an empty shell without its people, so we gotta look after our people. We have decided to temporarily close.

"Tough times ahead for us all but this will pass and we will be even more thankful for what joy sitting around a table can bring. Stay safe."

On the north coast, the popular Harry's Shack at The Strand beach in Portstewart also announced it would be closing.

"There is no joined-up approach to this and it's making people in the industry very angry," said Michael Deane.

"The timing is critical. If we get things wrong we're in a very difficult position if we're all to survive, that's the reality of what the industry is facing."

Belfast Telegraph