The coronavirus pandemic has put the hospitality industry in an unimaginably difficult situation. However, under extreme duress and even when it has looked bleak for our sector, time and time again there has been news that has made me smile and given us hope, writes Charlie Martin.
Even when it seems like everything was falling apart, all of the industry, from leading figures, multinational suppliers, pubcos small and large, and independent operators have shown incredible courage, leadership and spirit. It is a hard time for everyone, yet hospitality has most definitely shown its true colours.
It feels like a hell of a long time since Boris Johnson issued advice that the public should stay away from pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes without forcing them to shut. The intervening period between this advice and announcing any support for the sector this would affect, felt even longer.
The work done by UKHospitality was astonishing during that period – they and a supporting cast of leading figures joined together to put the sector’s voice to government to help secure support that saved thousands of businesses and millions of jobs. In this fight or flight moment, the industry rallied together, demanding to be heard and its value to be seen.
Adding to the strangeness of life during the coronavirus, hospitality was on the brink but seeing the likes of UKH chief Kate Nicholls, leading operator Jonathan Downey and more, putting forward our case on national TV and radio, imbued a sense of incomparable pride to work in this sector.
Yet, the fight still carries on. As lockdown will be with us for the foreseeable, operators are still working day and night to secure their businesses’ future.
Coming together in a crisis
Hospitality has come together in more ways than one; outside of lobbying for government support there has been a real sense of the industry joining forces to help one another. The countless examples I’ve seen across social media of business leaders offering advice and support to one another is testament to this. The £1 million worth of support offered to bartenders from Guinness as well as initiatives such as HospoLive all show the industry at its best.
In normal times our sector is incredibly competitive, but has always been underpinned by a sense of community between operators and suppliers alike. The sharing of best practice and innovation is commonplace and helps push hospitality forward. During a time of crisis, I think many would understand if this fell by the way side, but once again and to our credit it has been stronger than ever.
Still serving communities
The pandemic and lockdown haven’t stopped the industry from providing hospitality to people. Hotels have opened up rooms for NHS workers and the homeless, pubs have rallied round to deliver food to the elderly and vulnerable, and operators such as Tortilla, Leon and Dishoom are spearheading the campaign #FeedtheNHS. Independent outlets, such as the Tia Maria Bar in South London has been preparing scores of meals and donating them to NHS staff at King’s College Hospital.
Yes, this is founded on a sense of altruism in this period of national crisis, but it’s also just what hospitality does and always has done. Even during lockdown, even during this existential threat to the industry, you can’t stop hospitality from serving its community.
Ingenuity and innovation
The sector has always innovated, perpetually looking for ways to improve and overcome challenges. It has been inspiring to behold the industry transform itself in the face of adversity. Big drinks companies like BrewDog and Diageo have switched production of spirits to hand sanitiser and Leon has turned its to-go restaurants into grocery retail stores, helping to alleviate the tremendous pressure on those respective supply chains.
But it’s not just been the big players, Yummy Pub Co. has launched a delivery service and click collect grocery from their lakeside pub The Wiremill in Surrey. The New Inn in Ilminster has a daily changing menu that locals can order from and have meals delivered to their door. So many are showing agility of thought and creativity that makes hospitality such a vibrant industry and all whilst under unimaginable pressure from a business perspective.
Value of people
People have been at the centre of everything done throughout this period.
TiPJAR’s Hospitality Emergency Worker’s fund, the Hospitality Action Fund and the fantastic work done by Only a Pavement Away to support their members through the crisis are tremendous examples, of which there are many, of the great work that is being done to help people in the sector.
As well as external initiatives, operators have also shone and stood out in this regard. BrewDog’s founders forgoing their salary for 2020 to save as many jobs as possible and Hawksmoor’s classy as ever response to the crisis even as it forced them to lay off some members of staff. These are just a few of many more examples of operators treating their people with the support, dignity and respect throughout this unbelievably trying period.
The people still working in the sector to provide NHS workers beds in hotels, delivering food to the elderly and vulnerable deserve huge thanks, not just from their fellow peers in the sector, but society as a whole. How wrong and misplaced does it feel to label these people as ‘unskilled’ right now?
Hospitality is undoubtedly a people business and the sector has not forgotten that during this crisis.