Page last updated at 06:44 GMT, Friday, 19 December 2008

City crunch has knock-on effects

Gourmet Burger Kitchen
"Posh" fast-food chain Gourmet Burger Kitchen is enjoying brisk business
London's financial heart is being chipped away one redundancy at a time - and it is not just the city's bankers who are feeling the pinch this festive season.

The knock-on effect of the economic crisis has gone far beyond the financial capital.

It has reached into the basement gyms of Canary Wharf, where personal trainers are losing their wealthy clients; to the high-end restaurants that rely on lavish expense accounts; and to the hotels that cater to the business traveller.

Ubon, the sister restaurant of the high-end sushi emporium Nobu, has closed its doors in Canary Wharf, as have a string of other smaller cafes, nail salons and independent shops in both the Docklands complex and the Square Mile.

Crunch upside

Rita Beckwith, who is both owner of City Cruises Thames boats and chair of the Docklands Business Club, said small and medium-sized businesses are feeling the impact of the slowdown, but are not hitting any panic buttons just yet.

People are looking for office transformations, that way they save on the venue and are able to bring in their own alcohol
Kim Einhorn, Theme Traders party planning

"The chief victims are in and around Canary Wharf - corporate spending and consumer choice of spending is not going to be in restaurants and bars," she said, adding that recruitment agencies are also limping their way into 2009.

But the news is not all bad.

One city banker, who asked not to be named, said that while his bank's company Christmas party had been cancelled, he was still wining and dining clients at a string of lunches and dinners.


"Those of us who have been through this before, who have seen a cycle like this, we know that networking and relationships are more important than ever," he said.

"When it all goes wrong, the guy with the contacts will be the one with job."

The banks and other large companies that are still having Christmas bashes are opting for lower-key affairs at less extravagant venues, according to one leading party planner.

Kim Einhorn, director of Theme Traders, said her company has had a rush of late bookings, with many companies asking them to come in and decorate offices as they abandon fancy venues and restaurants.

"People are looking for office transformations, that way they save on the venue and are able to bring in their own alcohol," she said.

While there were some big-ticket cancellations earlier in the autumn, most company bosses appreciate the need to keep staff morale up - especially in stressful times.

'Thank you'

"I think employers generally still do want to say thank you, but to do it in a much lower key fashion," Ms Einhorn said.

DLR and Canary Wharf
East London's smaller businesses are struggling, but not panicking
But, she added, January will likely bring bad news for some, as she contemplates whether or not there are enough bookings in the new year to maintain her 60 full and part-time employees.

Paul Campbell, chief executive of Clapham House, the London-based business behind high street eateries such as Gourmet Burger Kitchen, the Real Greek and Tootsies, said rather than abandoning restaurants entirely, customers were thinking twice before splashing out on fancy meals.

"People are basically trading down and opting for classic 'posh' fast food that is good quality at a good price," Mr Campbell said in explaining his chain's surge in sales recently, even at its Canary Wharf restaurants.

The office Christmas parties that a year ago might have gone to a restaurant charging 30 or 40 a head are now looking for something more in the 10-15 category, leading to a 10% increase in group bookings over 2007, he said.

Other businesses that find themselves as the "winners" include bicycle repair shops, tailors who can repair old clothing and tennis coaches who find themselves with new clients who have recently been made redundant.

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