‘No masks’: Wagamama criticised over Rishi Sunak photo op

Rishi Sunak was nowhere to be seen on Thursday at the central London branch of Wagamama where the chancellor did a stint as a waiter in a PR stunt that followed the announcement of his £30bn economic plan the day before, though his appearance left a bad taste for some.

“He’s off today,” laughed one member of staff, as dozens of customers braved the pandemic to dine on lunchtime udon and ramen.

Elsewhere, however, eyebrows were being raised. “Hey @wagamama_uk sort it out, please…no masks, nor visors…,” was just one of a number of hostile tweets directed at the company after the photo opportunity in which a barefaced and gloveless Sunak served food to customers and chatted at a close distance.

“Do you let all your staff break procedures by not wearing masks when serving food to the public in the midst of a pandemic? Think I’ll give your place a miss thanks,” added another reply to a tweet by Wagamama, though some were also complimentary of the chain and the chancellor’s measures to kickstart the hospitality trade.

True to the “six safety steps” set out on the company’s website, a visored “safety host” was on hand to meet, greet and marshal arriving customers at the branch near Waterloo on Thursday. Inside, customers were seated apart among movable screens, while staff cleaned tables and sought to maintain a safe distance. But no other member of staff, including the smaller than normal team manning the restaurant’s kitchen, wore a face covering.

The Guardian understands that there is a desire at least on the part of some to wear masks, though they say that the company has told them they cannot. Before coming to work, said one, they had been running through a checklist of potential symptoms. The absence of face coverings contrasts to other chains such as Comptoir Libanais, where some waiters have been wearing them.

The Guardian has approached Wagamama – which has brought more than 2,000 staff back from furlough and will be among restaurants benefitting from a VAT cut and “Eat Out to Help Out” vouchers announced by Sunak – to ask for details of how its safety policy has been formulated and if staff are free to wear masks.

Other safety steps being taken by the company include installing hand sanitiser stations and the introduction of contactless only payment via a website facility that also acts as a contact-tracing record. But there was also evidence of shakiness there. Customers clicking on what the website promised would be answers to frequently asked questionsabout how it was “staying safe” were met with a message telling them “nothing to see here” and stating that the page appeared to have been moved, deleted or did not exist.

Sunak has bid farewell to his brief stint on the restaurant floor. Pivoting back to the political beat, he defended his social media messaging when asked about mockery of his penchant for posting graphics and soft-focus pictures overlaid with text – labelled “brand Rishi’ by some.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m keen to try and get our message across to as many people as possible and engage them, and if that means they poke some fun at me in the process so be it.”

Source: Read Full Article