Over the coming weeks, The Greatest British Company are hosting a series of industry forums where we’ll invite industry professionals and influencers to explore and debate the current challenging climate. Our aim is to identify how our hospitality sector can not only survive through this crisis – but hopefully thrive.

Following Thursday’s second National Lockdown Announcement, we’ll be sharing insights from our discussions with hospitality influencers, both from inside and outside the industry, who are adapting to the challenges of the future by learning from the past. Current contributors and collaborators include:

Future topics we’ll be exploring are:

  • Series 1 | How ‘At Home’ Dining will help Restaurants Survive a Second Lockdown
  • Series 2 | Is the Michelin Guide Still Relevant in a Pandemic?
  • Series 3 | How Can Hospitality Venues Safeguard Against the Impact of BREXIT?
  • Series 4 | Surviving a Long and Uncertain Winter

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Can Hospitality Survive a Second Lockdown?

The challenges presented by COVID-19 have been extensive and well documented. But with the onset of a second National Lockdown, we’re now at a critical juncture as the UK settles into a time of uncertainty. As one of the worst-hit sectors, is there any hope on the horizon for the hospitality industry?

“The hospitality industry is one of the most critical parts of our national economy, employing a staggering 10% of the overall British population, either directly or throughout its wider supply chain.” says Neil Davey in our forum video clip.

This ‘perfect storm’ will inevitably lead to mass job losses, despite the extension of furlough to March next year. Now facing temporary and even permanent closures, many independent and chain venues are already financially stretched and operationally challenged, with reduced capacity and increasing costs.

So is it possible not just to survive, but to actually thrive in these uncertain times?
Andreas Antona believes that his restaurants, Simpsons and The Cross, came out of the first lockdown as a better and more focussed operation.

“Because we were working with a smaller team, we had to concentrate our efforts during opening on doing two or three main courses really, really well – rather than trying to juggle half a dozen. “Good food is about precision engineering, and we had the time and opportunity to focus entirely on making sure we create a perfect dining experience for our customers.”

As lockdown continues, there will certainly be businesses who lose, but fortunately, for those who are flexible, adaptable and focused on quality, there are clear opportunities to tap into new income streams in this ‘new normal’.

Pioneering a New Way to Connect with Customers

Since the beginning of the first lockdown, pioneering chefs like Rick Stein have capitalised on the growing trend for cooking at home. Recognising that although they’re now unable to dine out, his core customer base still want a special dining experience, Stein has cleverly developed a range of At Home Menu Boxes to bring fresh Cornish seafood into every kitchen.

So successful is this initiative that Stein’s team have been inundated with At Home Menu Box orders since the first lockdown, which has now ‘increased five-fold’ according to their team. In light of this, they’re set to expand their offering to include weekly subscriptions throughout the second lockdown.

James Day recently tried Stein at Home. He said: “From the moment it arrived via courier and the excitement of opening the space-like foil pouch containing all the fresh ingredients, to watching the online cook-along video hosted by Jack Stein and seeing the results on my plate, it was wonderful. I found it to be a really unique, memorable and rewarding experience – and one I’ll be repeating.

“If this becomes the new normal, I’d urge any restaurant who can to explore creating a similar experience for their customer base to do so; it could not only help them maintain their existing customers’ loyalty, but to attract an entirely new customer base who may not have dined with them before due to geographical constraints.” Adding “We have been supporting chefs uk wide in recent weeks to re-brand their own restaurants to embrace ‘At Home’ with branding and supporting on-line websites”

On-line shop development partners Sugarvine At Home, MD Clive Holland added “Our takeaway ordering and payment system provides restaurants, pubs and hotels with a lifeline during this Pandemic but also a solid revenue stream moving forward. Venues just need to find the right way of running both options in their kitchens., and digitalising the whole system, supported by a clear marketing strategy.”

The Rise of the At Home Dining Experience

The need to adapt quickly to new challenges has always been the difference between success and failure for many venues. Andreas Antona said that during the first lockdown, he felt that he was slower to respond, but that his team inspire him to explore At Home Meal Kits as a way forward. Andreas said: “After a few trials, we landed on a solution that works for the business and now we’ve now come up with an entirely new brand, Antona at Home. This new offering has been influenced by my own restaurants and lifelong experiences in cooking and eating around the world. As demand takes off, we’re expanding into a new production facility nearby and sourcing sustainable packaging where we can.

“These initiatives need to be adopted by the industry as a whole to help not only preserve jobs, but also create new jobs. Over the coming months, it will be imperative to embrace new markets, and clearly communicate to our public what we can offer – beyond the traditional bricks and mortar restaurant format.”

Forging Exciting New Business Models

For Gary Usher, Chef and Owner at Elite Bistros, the impact of the pandemic was hard felt. With many of his suburban bistros being located in or near to Tier 3 regions such as Liverpool and Manchester, his team have experienced continuous challenges. But, like Stein and Antona, he was quick to adapt.  His team commented;

“When we launched Elite Bistros at Home in June, we didn’t just want to go the take-away route to turn money and help us survive, we preferred to continue to deliver the full ‘Elite Bistros Experience’ as much as we could, allowing the customer to choose their selection as they do in our bistros so the team worked on our dishes which translated best to At Home cooking, with minimal fuss and compromise. Now available to order weekly, with national deliveries” adding “Certainly we think this sector will grow in the current climate. It’s great for the team and secures jobs – including our supply chain – We’ll monitor the situation and support those who support us, continuing to engage with our customers as much as we can during lock-down and beyond.”

A sentiment shared by many leading chefs now also including Two Michelin Star Simon Rogan, who recently launched his Simon Rogan At Home, national deliveries, as well as Kenny Atkinson of Michelin Star House of Tides, in Newcastle.

A Localised Focus

Fellow chef Paul Askew of the Art School Restaurant, located ‘over the water’ in heart of what was Tier 3 Liverpool, was in a similar position. After the first lockdown, when he’d had to adapt not only operationally but mentally to the challenges of the pandemic, Paul looked at how he could continue to sustain his teams’ moral and service his loyal customers.

Like the chefs above, he also chose to champion At Home dining, but with a focus on a more localised pick-up solution for now. He found that customers would also collect other essentials and treats like fresh sourdough, Art School’s own olive oil and even their wine selection whilst picking up their orders. The feedback motivated Paul and his team to continue, and Art School re-opened in July, only to suffer again from being one of the early Tier 3 cities. This new challenge filled Paul and his team with dread.

“However,” said Paul. “I believe several things saved many of the City’s jobs and infrastructure. We had the understanding and support of Liverpool City Council and supporting departments, who recognised early on that the hospitality sector contributed to almost 50% of rates incomes, alongside the employment and visitor economy.

“The Mayor and the City’s leaders also set up a ‘Hospitality and Leisure Industry Support Fund’, which was hugely helpful. I applaud their vision and am pleased to say it was supported by central government. Maybe this is one good thing to come out of this situation – collaboration between the public and private sectors!”

Paul now believes that the extension of the furlough scheme could help them to weather the storm, but with continued uncertainty around how long the current Second Lockdown will last, he will need to continually reevaluate his business model.

A Way Forward for Hospitality?

Other chefs focusing on more localised At Home solutions include Simon Hulstone of The Elephant in Torquay, while Michelin Star Chef Michael Wignall of The Angel at Hetton has now shifted his focus on improving internal business operations durig this second lock down, rather than continuing the Michael Wignall At Home offering that he’d made available during the first lockdown. He is, however, hosting a Michael Wignall At Home Masterclass in conjunction with Wellocks at Home later in November.

The rise in public respect for the industry also means that hospitality venues shouldn’t be afraid to take greater control of their business model.

Seeking professional advise and investing carefully, with growing public support, hospitality venues should embrace the changes, as a collective as Andreas Antona suggested, a sentiment supported by James Day; “Since lockdown, consumers and our members have seen what we’ve been through as an industry,” said James Day. “They know venues have struggled, but also have genuinely grown to appreciate he industry at every level as an escape and reward, perhaps taken for granted before.”

“Now is the time to further cement the hospitality sector as a key part of everyday life on several levels – not just as a meal, but a lifestyle hub for everything. Venues now need to push the boundaries beyond their locality, and think of nationwide solutions, whilst supporting the supply chain of British producers.”

Greatest British Company will be curating a collection of ‘At-Home Experiences’ on the consumer website this month, supported by a printed guide showcasing the Hospitality Industry.

Contact us for details

More 'future Hospitality' to follow in the coming weeks...

  • Series 2 | Is the Michelin Guide Still Relevant in a Pandemic?
  • Series 3 | How Can Hospitality Venues Safeguard Against the Impact of BREXIT?
  • Series 4 | Surviving a Long and Uncertain Winter

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