As an official recession is announced, it continues to be a challenging time for the hospitality industry.

The future remains challenging as we discussed previously, planning and adapting to change has become a crucial necessity. Experiences industry leaders share their views.

National Support. Regional initiatives. On announcement of Eat Out to Help Out Government scheme, many in the upper echelons of the food and drink sector were cautious, but keen to get involved as such a vital impetus was a necessity to get diners back at the table. With capacities and covers reduced the Government’s programme has been a much-needed injection of hope.

Peta Darnley, owner of Michelin Star Pensons Restaurant, located at the Netherwood Estate in Worcestershire had to adapt quickly to the post lockdown restrictions. “We have gone from 40 to 30 covers but have opened up our Private Dining Room, previously reserved for group bookings, as an extension of the main restaurant floor to ensure tables are spread out to maximise space. We have fewer chefs and fewer front of house staff and a streamlined menu to ensure our high standard of food isn’t compromised whilst also reducing wastage.” Pensons Restaurant is headed up by Chef Chris Simpson (pictured below) formerly of Gidleigh Park and Restaurant Nathan Outlaw head chef.

Some wondered whether the top level of fine dining would get involved with such a money saving scheme but many recognised the opportunity. Diners at Pensons receive £10 off their 5-course tasting menu. Peta continued, “It is still a challenging situation as the hospitality sector is one with very high fixed costs and we are constantly reviewing the situation.”

The lack of guidance now and the immediacy of the initial lockdown continue to mystify some, even experienced veterans of the industry. Andreas Antona of Simpsons in Birmingham, (pictured below) who also presides over accredited The Cross in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, headed by Chef Director Adam Bennet, (pictured) said…

…“We were caught on the hop and were unprepared and it is difficult to come to terms with. My Aunt who lived through the Second World War said that even that wasn’t this bad. The Government needs to be more pragmatic, bolder and decisive. We need a longer-term strategy,” adding “The reality is we are now going into a recession and that 30-40% of restaurants will go out of business. We all need to up our game to face the challenges going forward and we need to come back stronger. But I’m optimistic we’ll get through this.”

Adapting quickly has proved crucial to some in adjusting to ‘the new normal’. Simpsons has introduced an ‘At Home’ service, billed as ‘Michelin starred food on your own dining table’ including dishes created by Chef Director Luke Tipping and MasterChef: The Professionals Winner Stu Deeley. The Cross is also now providing ‘At Home’ meals (below). Additional ‘At Home Experiences support will be promoted to consumers nationwide from September through national gourmet gift website

On the South coast, in Torquay, home of acclaimed ‘The Elephant’ by Chef Simon Hulstone (pictured above), they offer a straight-forward £10 off with the ‘Eat Out To help Out’ scheme. However, he recently commented “There is so much hate for being full on Tues/Wed from people. Even threatening to never eat with us again unless they can get £10 off other days !!! Very bizarre behaviour. We are operating with 30% less covers we would love to do more guests.” Looking forward he added, “We offer the lunch menu which changes every week, alongside this we have been providing meals for our locals to take-away, and these will continue, possibly leading up to Christmas. Our demographics change in September with an increased focus on more locals trade so we are constantly reviewing our operations.”

Speculation remains rife as to whether such initiatives have any longevity, with many in the SouthWest already pulling out due to it being their peak time, some suggesting Winter would be more help. However it seems history tells us that during a recession increased value is sought by diners and less gimmicks. Andreas has previously commented following the last recession in 2009, that Simpsons 3 course fixed price meal with half a bottle of wine ‘helped save us’ back then, but what will this recession bring?

Some restaurants have seen numbers of those ordering at home fall as diners have begun to feel more comfortable returning to the restaurant itself. Yet it may be a regular feature for now. Simpsons At Home will continue at least until Christmas although they appreciate that many are doing the same and they need to be unique, as with The Elephant, Andreas continues to monitor demand. The build up to the festive season, which has already begun could prove a critical period but as Peta said, ‘many are just concentrating on the here and now.’

Some are already making plans. The Elephant will be running new promotions in the Autumn, using different cuts of meat and seasonal produce. Their recent refurbishment means they have already significantly invested in their future development. Pensons will be hosting the Out of Nature Sculpture & Art Exhibition from the end of August, raising money for a local mental health charity. Yet the overall mood amongst those that we chatted to remains one of relief. Relief at being open again, relief at being able to try and instill some form of normality into their work and relief that the customers are coming back. But for how long?

We have previously highlighted the necessity for crisis planning and future proofing for events such as COVID and building such contingencies into marketing and business plans. In the meantime, engaging with customers may sound obvious but is as vital as ever, as well as offering something a little different, and capturing their personal preferences to provide an on-going personal service.

James Day, Founder of GB Hospitality Company, and curator of ‘The GB GourmetXperiences Collectionconsumer gifts and experiences commented; “Who would have thought a few years ago, that Michelin accredited Chefs and restaurants would be offering take-aways and some even relying on this new market for survival, not to mention a 50% discount scheme backed by the Government?  Clearly from these comments today and those of our other clients who are constantly reviewing and refocusing their marketing and customer solutions, the hospitality industry has a long challenging journey ahead. We continue to prepare our customers as we did during the 2009 recession.” Adding “We too have adapted our ‘GourmetXperience’ offerings and will be adding our clients own ‘At Home Experiences’ section on our consumer website, to further add support to independent restaurants like Simpsons and The Cross alongside others UK wide who will need that extra awareness in an increasingly competitive ‘At Home’ market, whilst maintaining high standards  – especially as another recession takes hold and if we begin to suffer from more isolated lock-downs, and God forbid, another national one.”

Edited by Adam Whittaker.
Communications Consultant, with a Passion For Food & Drink

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