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Are Folkestone’s Eateries Bouncing Back After Covid?

As the sun sets on the covid pandemic and the restrictions come to an end, our pubs, restaurants and cafés are breathing a huge sigh of relief. From suffering government-forced closures to dealing with strict guidelines on social distancing, every venue has had its difficulties to overcome. We saw restaurants offering takeaway for the first time, just to be able to trade. Some have had to transform their premises to accommodate the guidelines. Many took temporary measures, whilst others took the plunge and made permanent changes. There were mass installations of perspex screens and the inventive use of outdoor spaces when seating indoors was not permitted. Social distancing meant fewer tables, and less earning potential for the restaurants. And service with a smile became all the more difficult with face masks. Not to mention all the staff sickness and chefs leaving the industry in droves. 

So, how has all of this impacted our favourite places to eat and drink in Folkestone? What are they doing now to encourage customers to return? And how do they feel about the future? We spoke to some of Folkestone’s most popular spots to find out.

Forced closures and the ripple effect

“Covid stopped all trade dead, of course, and for us the effects lasted late into last summer,” said Chris and Liz Smith from The Chambers. “Our venue layout is basically made up of all the things that the government warned the public they shouldn’t do or should be wary of. Namely small corridors, lots of doorways and pinch points, no natural light or ventilation. That combined with the laws of the time not allowing folk to congregate together, sing, watch live bands (who also couldn’t even meet), dance & shout and so on, meant we were only able to operate when all regulations were dropped fully.”

The Chambers (image credit:

The food operation at The Chambers stopped completely and their core team went down to three members – Chris, Liz and their daughter Rosie, then later their manager Thom brought the team up to four. Whilst some establishments offered a food takeaway service, The Chambers decided against it.

“When we looked at takeaway options, the media hysteria (justified & sometimes uncontrollably exaggerated by others) surrounding covid made us very reluctant to place Rosie in the sole position of customer facing service, even with full PPE,” said Chris. “Liz and I would’ve been the catering team, and Rosie was the only option for customer facing service. We decided very quickly we weren’t going to potentially feed our daughter to the lions just for a few takeaway meals.”

And the after effects of the pandemic are still very much in play for Chris and the team. “Our food operation still isn’t back as our catering team has left or been reskilled within the business. Chefs are currently an absolute premium, if indeed you’re lucky to find one. We’ve been advertising constantly since before we re-opened and have been unsuccessful in finding a chef. It’s the first time since June 1999 that we’ve not been regularly offering a full menu…it’s enormously frustrating as a business!”

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for The Chambers. As one of Folkestone’s top music venues, they have been doing everything they can to come out of covid fighting. “Our business is built on four corners – Bar, Music, Coffee Shop and Food. Food is the only thing we’re unable to fulfil currently, but the other three aspects we’ve gone hell for leather on and are definitely moving in the right direction.”

A huge financial impact

The lockdowns were financially catastrophic for many industries of course, and the restaurant sector was hit hard. Christian Sangiuseppe of The Bay Tree Bar and Grill explained how his business was affected. “During the lockdowns, we retained our entire team, securing up to 80% of their salaries with the help of the furlough scheme, at a time when venues were forced to close with no income, and still plenty of outgoings, such as equipment leases, IT services, cancellation refunds, admin staff, employers’ contributions and utility bills, and we took out loans to cover these. At the same time, the government encouraged those furloughed to take second jobs and when the scheme concluded and restaurants were finally allowed to reopen, many chose not to return to their primary job in hospitality. Most of our suppliers were also impacted when we weren’t able to trade, and they’ve since faced similar challenges with their workforces which has caused prices to rise.

“This exodus of skilled workers from the hospitality sector and the supplier price increases have been compounded by other factors such as Brexit, which has added red tape to what was once a frictionless process of importing food and drink from the continent, as well as closing our doors to skilled foreign workers; our energy bills spiralling out of control since businesses aren’t protected by the caps that domestic customers are; our VAT rate returning from 5% to 20%, the fear of further lockdowns as we experienced in December which wiped out most of our Christmas and New Year’s trade; havoc on our motorways thanks to events like the P&O debacle, which triggers traffic management “solutions”, the war in Ukraine, etc. All of these have contributed to increased costs and the staffing issues have inevitably also increased our payroll, squeezing the already tight margins that we operate on. We’ve all seen reports in the mainstream media about the £10 pint being on the horizon and unfortunately, if things continue the way they are, this could become a reality sooner than we think.”

The Bay Tree Bar & Grill (image credit:

Even after the reopening of restaurants and the lifting of many restrictions, covid is still having an effect. We spoke to Hassan Dogan of Bella Vita. “The current prices on imported items are extremely high compared to before the pandemic. And we’ve had to shut the restaurant for a couple of days due to lack of staff caused by covid-19 staff illness on a regular basis.” 

Search for stays in Folkestone

Whilst everywhere has suffered to some degree due to covid, some restaurants have fared better than others. Full service has resumed at The Bouverie Tap, with the restaurant as busy as ever. But it hasn’t been an easy ride for the pub restaurant, now in its sixth year of trading.

“Obviously we were pretty much closed down overnight with no knowing what was to come when the first lockdown was announced,” said owner of The Bouverie Tap, Luke Blown. “It was worrying for me but also my staff, and the weight of responsibility to make sure they were okay too, was hard. I just followed all the guidelines with furlough and grants etc and hoped it would all be ok in the end – which, touch wood, so far it seems to be. I took a couple of weeks to work out what we were going to do once it was apparent the lockdown wasn’t going to be short, and then set up a takeaway offering. It wasn’t overly profitable, but it kept me busy!”

The Bouverie Tap (image credit:

The Bouverie Tap has always been a popular spot amongst locals and tourists alike since opening its doors in 2017, offering a fantastic selection of local ales, lagers, ciders and wines along with an incredible food menu, regular specials and a fabulous Sunday roast. And it’s popularity certainly hasn’t dwindled since reopening. “We have been lucky we have lots of loyal customers who have returned, so haven’t suffered too much. Many people appreciated that we followed all the covid guidance to the letter, and making people feel safe was a priority.”

The Bouverie Tap offering takeaway during lockdown (image credit:

Bringing back the punters

It seems that getting customers back in the doors has not been too difficult. The people of Folkestone have been flocking to restaurants since restrictions were relaxed, a good sign that one of our favourite pastimes is here to stay. “Attracting customers hasn’t been as much of a challenge,” said Christian Sangiuseppe, “because up until now, the demand from people wanting to go out and socialise with friends and family whilst enjoying decent food and drink has been high, with the months of interruptions we’ve all experienced. What’s been more of a challenge has been servicing that demand due to depleted workforce and disruptions in our supply chains.”

And the Folkestone restaurant scene is definitely buzzing at the moment, with everyone putting their best foot forward to keep up with the competition. “At Bella Vita, we have added 20% discount during our lunch menu Monday to Friday,” says Hassan.

Bella Vita (image credit:

While at The Bouverie Tap, they are booking to capacity with their famous Sunday Roasts, specials and offers. “Due to rising costs, we haven’t been able to do the same offer nights as before covid, but we have some lovely burger and steak night offerings. We have concentrated on quality food and local produce. It also really helps when our customers leave us lovely reviews on all platforms as this definitely entices more new customers in.”

So, what does the future hold?

“The future is a bit of an unknown for bars and restaurants, especially with everyone’s cost of living going up as it is,” added Christian. “The concern is that people will cut back on what they consider to be luxuries and that this could include wining and dining out. Whilst this might sound like more doom and gloom, the good news is that even though the Bay Tree Bar & Grill was relaunched a few years back mainly as an offering to the residents of Folkestone, it also has a symbiotic relationship with the Burlington Hotel and its hotel guests, so whatever happens, our doors will be open, and we’ll be doing our best to offer fantastic experiences to all of our clientele. We’re also looking to reinstate our special events with live music and food and drink brand pairings soon.”

Liz from The Chambers added: “The future is, I feel, a good year away even in this climate. People will need a definite summer, autumn and winter without the effects of covid before it becomes a distant enough memory to be filed away as something that ‘happened’. We anticipate summer 2023 will be here before the trade can honestly say ‘Okay, so this is what we’ve got to work with’.”

Whilst Luke at The Bouverie Tap is feeling positive about the years ahead. “Although costs are rising everywhere, we are concentrating on providing quality (food, drink and service!) and therefore value for money. Hopefully we will have many new customers through our doors!”

As long as we all keep supporting our local cafés, restaurants and bars, and the tourist trade continues to grow, our local eateries will thrive, and we will all reap the benefits. We have some incredible places to eat and drink in Folkestone. So, head to The Chambers for a bit of live music or pop down to Bella Vita for a midweek lunch at 20% off. Be sure to keep an eye out for events at The Bay Tree Bar and Grill on their social media. And I can thoroughly recommend the fabulous Burger Night burgers at The Bouverie Tap, held every Wednesday.

The Chambers – 01303 223333
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Bay Tree Bar & Grill – 01303 255301
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Bella Vita – 01303 255141
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The Bouverie Tap – 01303 255977
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