The Independent Hospitality Business vs. COVID-19

In our latest guest blog, Steven Hesketh, CEO at Savvy Hotels, discusses the past 12 months for independent hospitality businesses.

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Words: Steven Hesketh, Savvy Hotels

Where do I start?

As an independent hotelier, the last year or so has been like an out of body experience. Venues shut, staff laid off, uncertainty of survival, business remodelling (multiple times), rent negotiations, insurances declined, venues opened, venues closed, venues open for takeaway, venues open outside, venues open inside, bills still ongoing and new costs creeping in, mixed demand levels, VAT reduction, rates freeze, grants awarded, amazing staff lost, new compliance and laws at short notice – I could go on, but we have all weathered the same storm and many of you will have heard it all before.

Once we actually got open in April, I’m sure from the outside the industry has looked booming. There are queues, you must book a table, table times are limited to 2 hours, takeaway & delivery options still continuing – it is easy to question the incessant pleas from our industry – yet business remains hard, really hard. Representatives of the industry are fighting our corner like never before. There are forums, committees, zoom meetings with high ranking officials, free advice, cheap advice, pay what you go advice, pockets of pedestrianised zones, and general social media support flying our flag, but this is all beginning to be coming to an end… and reality of the challenges are hitting us harder and faster than at the worst of the pandemic.

Building up to the announcement on Monday this week has been one filled with doubt. If I ask myself to be honest, I could see the delay coming a mile off. It is just yet another u turn that leaves a catastrophic trail of destruction behind it. Regional spikes in cases putting inter-city travellers off, the ‘Freedom’ day delayed until July.

I have personally had to close my venue in Chester this week, like many other operators, the new Covid variant outbreak has hit hard with 20% of my team infected (myself included) which closed the business overnight. Revenue of £50k wiped off and £5,000 of stock wasted with no financial assistance to support the closure, in the same week for example the first bounce back loan payment was paid.                             

So what’s next for hospitality?

As a business owner, I have asked myself several times, how do we go on? But go on we must and we must take the opportunity to improve and grow. Prior to Covid/Brexit the industry was struggling with staff and now the problem is worse than it has ever been. For me this is where the industry needs to look inwards and bring change – surely now is the time to look at our teams and value their worth.

I feel the past decade has seen this Industry, strive in huge ways to invest in our people, pay them properly, give them career progression, proper contracts and a culture to which they can identify – but much more is still required. Most of all we need to train them properly at all levels to ensure we are creating industry professionals who see the worth in what they are doing and can create effective and happy teams. An amazing venue, great marketing and the best menu mean nothing if the team to deliver it aren’t up to scratch.

We now must be heard, like never before… funding spent in this country at national and local government, to support our Industry with apprenticeships, recruitment, skills and training is simply not fit for purpose and must change. This essential support can no longer benefit everyone but the desired people it is meant too.

We are all tired, exhausted and financially scarred. But hospitality is full of passionate, creative people. It is our time to rebuild, retrain and retain our teams, I believe that businesses that do this will hold the key to survival.

For more information about Savvy Hotels visit https://www.savvyhotels.com

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