Lockdown two, speed of recovery in 2021, some things are different this time in lockdown , building new habits – how we take the positives from a pandemic.

Lockdown two by Alastair Scott

I find the psychology of the second lockdown fascinating. In the first lockdown everyone was scared and wanted to follow government advice, this lockdown is different with bookings for the next few days up to closure way up on last week as people want to go to the pub for the last time before staying at home for a month. I suspect, or hope, therefore that when we open up again it will be with immediate pent-up demand rather than the rather timid excursions after lockdown number one.

As operators, last time we closed without a furlough scheme (or maybe there was but I didn’t notice because I was already drowning my sorrows), whereas now we have a scheme that we understand; we also have an end date (probably) for the closure period. The furlough scheme also allows us to furlough on a part-time basis, so this time we can do takeaways and any other activities where we only need our team occasionally. So, we have more tools and flexibility with which to minimise our losses.

Not all is good however. As a result of the curfew, we were planning to open up an off-licence because, as a village pub, Tesco is a ten-minute drive away. This idea is on hold until the government sees the injustice of allowing Tesco to sell alcohol and a ready meal (without VAT) while the hospitality industry cannot and has to add VAT. So, we will need to use the delivery process that allows us to sell alcohol and hot food – at what distance away does it count as a delivery?

What else are we doing this lockdown?

We are going to use the time to build things for the future that we will want to maintain as part of our new long-term operations. This is a big list and we probably won’t be able to do all of it, but it includes:

Creating a takeaway offer, an off-licence, a provider of high-class ready meals, a village shop and a coffee and bacon sandwich takeaway. Whereas we couldn’t justify any of this before, we now can, and it will be interesting to see if we can break even on this in the next four weeks. I suspect not but we will give it a go and learn how to do it well.

Improving our customer offer – we can get our distillery going properly, we can start on our next menu and we can re-plan what will be a weird Christmas.

We are also going to use the closure period to practise doing weddings. We think one of our biggest opportunities when the market reopens are large functions but we have never done them before, so we will get ourselves as well prepared as possible for the wedding business.

And finally, we will focus on improving operations. We will look for alternative EPOS providers, we will refine our menu specs and we need a better in-house communications tool.

We have now decided who we are going to furlough and who we won’t. We only have one member of our management teams who is not eligible for furlough, and nearly all of our staff are eligible. Because staff accrued a lot of holiday during Eat Out To Help Out, we are also going to ask staff to take all their holiday, including holiday that will be earned in December, during the lockdown period.

But the big question remains about whether we will get to reopen in a month from now. I have a personal belief the government has, yet again, suffered from the law of unintended consequences, and this will now be combined with high levels of civil disobedience. The consequence of the curfew has been (in my view) that people have migrated to the home where there is no supervision and social distancing has been more poorly observed than in supervised premises. The consequence of this lockdown could be the same, with even more socialising in the home and, as a result, far less dramatic reduction in virus cases.

I would love to see the government being brave enough to reverse the decision to restrict hospitality, and instead ban socialising in the home but allow supervised socialising in the hospitality world. That would get the industry going again and I hope achieve a better result.

So, here’s hoping that we are able to reopen without a curfew in early December, and able to give our customers the Christmas they want and deserve.

Alastair Scott runs Malvern Inns, a small chain of pubs with bedrooms, and is also chief executive of S4labour

S4labour is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Speed of recovery in 2021 by David Read

Sometimes in life, one’s situation will keep repeating itself until one learns one’s lesson. And here we are, 229 days after we started the last lockdown, about to start another. Our government may not be the best example of lesson-learning we will see this year.

So, what have we learned as a sector? One of the few advantages of having been here before is that we at least have a new playbook to use. Shutting down with just a few days to prepare, operating on different/restricted hours, on different health and safety rules, and coping with huge demand fluctuations are just a few of the new skills acquired. Pivoting from table service to home delivery, click and collect and retail products has been another. And we have even learned to get some sleep at levels of debt that, in any other year, would have had us reaching for the Mogadon.

We’ve learned too that the government didn’t support our sector because it loved us. It did it because in the early weeks of the crisis there was a hope that employment levels could be maintained through a temporary pandemic with a short life. Seven months on, decisions are much more complex and nuanced, and the government cannot be relied upon to make good ones, for the whole nation, let alone for hospitality.

We have also learned to live with uncertainty. Five-year plans have shrunk to five-week plans. And, with that, the ability to be flexible and respond quickly has become paramount. We pore over news feeds, listen to webinars and gossip with network contacts, all in a desire to stay on top of what, at times, feels like major changes to circumstances on an almost daily basis. I am minded of the game I used to play on the beach with my children, where we would deliberately build a huge sandcastle close to the tide line so that we could then desperately defend it against the inevitable advancing waves. The adrenaline rush was great but, of course, we always lost.

It seems to me that the best leaders in a crisis like this one marshal their resources to fend off the incoming tide but they have an eye for the mid-term too. They instinctively understand they must protect both the immediate viability of their business and create the right conditions to deliver a safe and speedy recovery when trading conditions improve. We cannot wait for certainty to return to carry out these larger, more structural repairs to our businesses.

The heart of this surely has to be the operation itself. To generate cash as demand recovers there can be no compromise on simplicity, quality and efficiency. Execute well and customers will arrive, leave happy, and tell other people. Execute with the maximum efficiency and the cash will fall through faster.

At Prestige, in the first few weeks of the first lockdown, we received calls from some customers suspending our work on their supply chain. But, at the most unlikely moment, one operator, almost at the darkest point of the lockdown, called and set us to work. The early months of lockdown were ideal for collation of data, analysis and business requirements. Now, just seven months later, the business has a supply chain that, in early 2021, will add 2.5 percentage points to its gross margin, while improving the customer experience and simplifying operations.

It feels likely to me that supply chain was not the only strategic initiative under way in this business during the pandemic, but what is certain is that these business leaders recognised the criticality of boosting the speed of their recovery, not simply surviving the storm, and are now reaping the rewards.

David Read is founder and chairman of Prestige Purchasing

Prestige Purchasing is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Some things are different this time in lockdown by Ann Elliott 

In March, you could only meet others from outside your household in very limited circumstances, now you can meet one friend in an outdoor public place. Now schools, colleges and universities will all remain open during lockdown, as will nurseries and other childcare when they were closed in March. Public toilets will remain open this time.

Many people are going into this lockdown as part of a support “bubble”, a concept that didn’t exist back in March. While non-essential shops are closing once again, this time, click and collect is allowed. Garden centres can also stay open in lockdown two, as can waste tips, dentists, opticians, chiropractors and osteopaths.

This time, the government has not placed any time limit on recreational activities: meeting a friend in the park for a walk or sitting on a bench and eating a sandwich is perfectly fine. You can also take unlimited exercise because the new lockdown guidance says “you can and should still travel to… spend time or exercise outdoors. This should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel to do so if necessary”. In this lockdown, no one will formally shield – itself not a household term in March

So the scope of lockdown is different. It also feels different to me. From a glass half-empty perspective, it’s now dark and cold, working from home isn’t a refreshing change anymore and I no longer believe that the world will go back to normal at the end of lockdown. I thought we would all pull through in March but I have friends in this sector that I am now truly worried about from both a financial and a mental health perspective.

Our sector has changed enormously from lockdown to lockdown. I have been in the sector for a very long time and never ever seen such transformational change enacted in such a short space of time. It has been quite amazing. I cannot honestly think of any business I know that hasn’t seized the opportunity to be innovative, to move at speed, to break down barriers, to launch new initiatives or to throw everything up in the air and think again.

Operators have taken the opportunity to rapidly expand their delivery operations, to introduce click and collect, to create drive-thrus they didn’t have before and to introduce order and pay at table at breakneck speed. They have built online retail stores from scratch, developed kits to cook at home, food boxes, collaborated with others they didn’t even know in March and reinvented their spaces to incorporate social distancing.

Their teams have adapted so well to welcoming guests with health and safety warnings, to the wearing of masks, to asking customers to register with QR codes, sanitise their hands and have their temperature taken, to reduced capacity, online booking only, table service, Eat Out To Help Out and to facing, sometimes, very rude and frustrated guests – who would ever have thought?

Operators have cut offices space, sites, teams, hours, menus and drink ranges. They have had to quickly build CRM systems, loyalty schemes and ongoing team and customer communications processes. Some have created magical outdoor dining spaces, bought fire pits and introduced interesting indoor dining companions (think mannequins at Inception group).

So many businesses learnt how to work with the NHS from a standing start with Feed our Frontline. Others launched farmers’ shops, community centres, local deliveries through their own transport and went out of their way to help others less fortunate than themselves. The energy and determination in this sector has been truly inspiring with whole teams moving with so much speed and so much agility.

Of course, there are many unresolved issues for this sector to face – rents and rates being two huge items for consideration. I am not ignoring these. I do, however, feel that operators are generally in a much better place this time round than they were seven months ago. They have shown huge leadership, amazing resilience, outstanding creativity and delivered exciting innovation in the most difficult of times. They are tired and drained. They don’t want “to go again” but they will.

I know not every industry commentator agrees but I do think, in a glass half-full frame of mind, there are things to be positive about. We have an outstanding trade body, our sector has collaborated in unprecedented ways, there is pent-up consumer demand and hospitality, more than ever, is at the heart of our neighbourhoods and communities. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser

Building new habits – how we take the positives from a pandemic by Jamie Campbell

When I shared this title for an opinion piece with the team at Propel, it was before the news last weekend of the new national lockdown measures. With that in mind, it may seem a little premature to be talking about taking positives from what is so clearly a continuing and extremely challenging scenario for our colleagues across the industry. With that very much in context, by no means do the positives that we have seen outweigh the negatives, but they are important to highlight.

Starting with a growth of resilience, something that has increased as a pertinent term in the past couple of years and something we, as a business, have started to train as a subject too. The training of resilience certainly has value, but the intense environment that our teams in the industry have gone through will go far further in creating a consciousness of what is needed to become resilient and also perhaps surprising many in what they are capable of. We have seen it in our own business, with the challenges we have faced in supporting our clients, the personal growth has been incredible to see and I have no doubt, across the industry, this will create a generation of incredible leaders of the future.

Personal growth through this situation is far from a guarantee, clearly for many it has and continues to be a hugely challenging time as incomes are cut and job security is, broadly, not there. With that in mind though, the increasing focus on well-being – something we have seen first-hand and through our Hospitality Professionals research that we started in conjunction with CGA earlier this year, with 73% provided with well-being support and 67% stating they had felt their well-being had been prioritised by their employers. This is a brilliant place to build from and a habit we need to evolve because well-being isn’t binary and there is lots we can develop and learn. Speaking to friends and colleagues across the industry, it’s clear that huge progress has been made and I’m sure there is also a willingness to push this further.

This was clearly noted by many of our team members across the industry too, our Hospitality Professionals research makes it clear people still want to develop careers within hospitality, with 61% stating they would recommend friends or family to work in the sector. There is no doubt that with the levels of job losses we have seen that some will have left the sector forever, but there is clear positivity in the career development that is still being looked for. From speaking to friends and colleagues over the period, the (necessary) pragmatism of July has moved into something more focused on the development of teams, something else we need to try not to lose momentum with – if at all possible – this time around.

The second (national) lockdown that we have just entered already seems different from the first, not in the tangible impact on our businesses but more about how we see people dealing with it. One huge positive that has been true across any sector, not just ours, is the openness in sharing and communicating with our teams. On a multi-site basis, this is not always easy, but is certainly one habit we should not leave in the situational realms of covid-19 because the thirst for understanding from our teams is only likely to grow, and sharing more and more often will be key.

Like it has been for many, the final few days of hospitality being open have been a chance to show support and appreciation to some of my favourite businesses. It has been amazing to see the resilience and flexibility of the teams first-hand – not letting masks and additional process get in the way of delivering a great experience. They will have had to deal with challenging customers during this period too – it hasn’t brought out the best in everyone – but the habit of delivering hospitality is the most important habit of all.

Jamie Campbell is chief operating officer at CPL Learning

CPL Learning is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member


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