She’s used to working hard. Claire Bosi’s regime used to be a 17-hour day owning and running a two-star Michelin restaurant.
There’s nothing she doesn’t know about putting in a shift. When she stepped away from running restaurants to run magazines, she imagined life would be a little easier.
What did she know. The days of co-owning one of the world’s then-Top 50 restaurants seem like child’s play compared to the life she now leads.
From political campaigner to unpaid Samaritan to chefs, from leading writer and editor to industry figurehead, from international publisher to production manager, from her base in the Midlands she has become immersed in the world of hospitality like never before.
“I’m more involved in the industry than when I was running and managing my own business," she says.
"Let me tell you this, it’s definitely harder work. When you come from doing 17 hours per day in a two-star restaurant, that tells you how hard I work.”
On Monday, her work will take her to the House of Commons. MPs will be debating a campaign that Claire began as they consider whether or not there ought to be a Minister for Hospitality. To date, it’s generated just under 200,000 signatures and been supported by such industry stars as James Martin, Michel Roux Jr, Fred Siriex and such totemic behind-the-scenes movers and shakers as Kate Nichols and Harry Murray.
Claire started the petition as a response to Covid. Her campaign is based on simple facts. The UK hospitality industry is responsible for around three million jobs, generating £130 billion per year in activity, resulting in £38bn in taxation. Yet, unlike the Arts or Sports, it does not have a dedicated Minister. So campaigners want a Minister for Hospitality to be created for the current and successive governments.
“I’m bricking it,” says Claire, in her shoot-from-the-hip, no-nonsense style.
On Monday, she’ll be introduced to Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North, who will lead the debate on her motion.
Yet the genesis of Claire’s campaign goes back further. She lives just outside Ludlow, in a picturesque village in undulating Shropshire countryside.
Ludlow has been her home for two decades. It’s where she co-founded Hibiscus restaurant, which won one Michelin star and then two. She co-owned and managed the re-imagined Hibiscus, in London’s Mayfair, when it relocated. And throughout that successful tenure, she always wondered why the industry was ignored by Government.
“The big issue that our industry has always had is VAT. Whether that’s the pub restaurant in West Bromwich or the Michelin restaurant in Ludlow, the issue is the same. People look at the price of their food and don’t factor in that the Government is taking 20 per cent in VAT.
After that, there’s also the price of ingredients, the costs of staff and fixed overheads like rent – restaurants end up running on really thin margins. And if they do make a profit, there’s Corporation Tax to pay.
“So when I was running Hibiscus, it always struck me as being crazy that a fifth of our income was being handed straight to the Government without the customers really understanding that.”
Claire had long thought about launching a national campaign. She knew she’d have the backing of the industry and she knew there was a salient case to make.
“In January last year, I had decided to try and do something with VAT. I had a phone call with Marco Pierre White about it, for two-and-a-half hours.”
The wheels were in motion. Then Covid hit and the industry was locked down.
“As we went through the first lockdown and Rishi and Boris started talking about opening restaurants again the alarm bells went off. They wanted to synchronise the opening of city centre restaurants at the same time as cafes down the road. It struck me as being ridiculous and demonstrated that they hadn’t got a clue what they were doing. It’s evident that they didn’t understand the difference between a Travelodge and a neighbourhood restaurant with 12 seats.”
So she figured it was time to bring forward her campaign.
“Hospitality is a sitting duck in Government, with nobody who understands what we do.
“Had we had a minister in place, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme could have been done differently. The whole thing was chaotic. There were owners in tourist areas who were already rammed and to them it was just a headache. If we’d had a minister in place, they could have tailored that offer so that operators could have decided what works best for them.
“It’s our fault we don’t have a minister, we should have done something about this a long time ago. As important as our sector is, we’ve never had a minister.”
The debate on Monday won’t fix all of the problems. It may, however, start a longer conversation that might bring about change.
Claire says: “I’m not sure how it will go. It has got the industry engaged in politics. We’re acutely aware we’ve been under represented for years and years and we’re collectively trying to do something about it. It’s down to Boris whether the motion succeeds or falls, so I don’t think a debate in Parliament can be the final change.
"I think our best case is a positive debate and a recommendation to Boris. It’s up to the industry to keep on pushing and keep on going and not accept the position of non-representation. I don’t think this fight will be won or lost on the 11th.”
Having the support of people like Tom Kerridge, the Michelin Guide, the AA Guide and more shows how important people consider the proposition. Each day on Twitter, hundreds more people learn about the campaign and sign up.
If a minister is appointed, they will be responsible not just for restaurants and cafes but for the pub and brewing trade too, for food service manufactures and far more.
Claire says: “To get this minister is not a silver bullet. It’s needed to help us recover from Covid but it’s also about the future. If something like this happens again, we have to avoid being in a position where the industry is not understood by the people who govern our country. It’s important for the young kids in our colleges now to know that somebody has their backs. The hospitality industry has been hung out to dry and this must never happen to the next generation.”
Political campaigning, of course, is unpaid. Claire somehow shoehorns that into editing three magazines, in the UK, US and UAE. The woman who clears her mind with a 15km daily jog around the woods of Ludlow is empathetic towards those affected by lockdown. She is hopeful, too, that Lockdown 3 will be the third and final one.
“This is the last one. It won’t happen again,” she says.
“The vaccinations will happen. When we reopen, it will be permanent. The sooner this bit is over and done with the better. I think this will be the last time. I think the next six weeks is tough. I think in March places will be back open again. You have to stick true to your blood group and mine is positive.
“I’m quite relieved by this lockdown because finally they can bring it under control and get us all open.”
For four years, she’s interviewed and edited the biggest names in the industry, working with chefs who hold three Michelin stars down to kids who are just starting their journey. She was asked to edit the title as she left her former job as a restaurant owner and manager.
“Chef and Restaurant Magazine approached me four years ago.” She catches her breath. “Four years…. It feels like it’s been five minutes. It’s flown by.”
Back in 2016/7, the magazine was failing and had been acquired by new owners. They asked her if she’d be interested and Claire said she would only take on the job if they were committed to making it the best title in its category.
Claire oversaw an expansion into the USA and United Arab Emirates. It came about after she’d run an interview with the Swedish-born, New York-based chef, Fredrik Berselius, of Aska, who modelled for Miu Miu before creating the acclaimed Aska restaurant.
“Fredrick was interviewed and he loved the magazine. He showed it to his peers in New York who wanted to know why they didn’t have anything like it. So we had a chat with them and decided we’d launch in New York.”
Claire persuaded her directors to invest in the project and the New York industry backed it. The magazine was successfully launched, only to be paused by Covid.
Soon, chefs from California, Texas and elsewhere were getting in on the act and Chef and Restaurant Magazine decided to launch its US edition.
“We couldn’t believe they didn’t have a magazine. I went to a meeting with the directors and stated the case for a New York magazine. So I went out to New York, went to meet loads of chefs and companies and showed them the magazine. So we launched in New York, that went really well and gradually it morphed into one for the whole of the US.”
Having different magazines around the world means an intercontinental lifestyle.
“It sounds glamorous. But when I go out to New York I literally get off the plane, go to a meeting then see people back-to-back before getting some sleep, doing the same thing over again and getting back on the plane.
“It’s exciting and enormous fun, though it’s not to be confused with a holiday – believe me, the two things are different.”