Never mind the High Street, hospitality is also getting a long-overdue re-boot on the back of lockdown. I’m going to be brutal about my sector, because the truth is that it was all over the place at the end of 2019. A great, wobbling, broad church spanning everything anyone could imagine you, the customer, might want. Fusion pizzas, water sommeliers, bug-menus, three course meals at £9.95: these are things you think you want but do you really need them and at what cost? We have been brutalised by a decade of deep discounting, Groupon, and vouchers that make you feel better about paying less for food and drink that is still expected to reach 80% gross profit. Even the Chancellor’s well-meaning “eat out to help out” initiative was a fail in this context; how many of you went out, ate out at discount prices (courtesy of the next couple of generations) and returned to the same venue later, at full whack?
Out with the chains, the head-office, value-engineered menus (they’re not so tasty when you realise your dish is costed to the number of rocket leaves per plate). Out with the staff enjoying a nice chat by the till while you’re waiting to be seated. Out with grubbiness, sticky tables, limp menus and dying flowers in murky water. In with the new order!
In my new hospitality world, the surviving businesses, different as they are, have some things in common. One, in March 2020 we committed to our best long-term staff (full time or part time) and we kept in contact with those staff throughout the long, dark days of lockdown. Two, unable to sit still or believe we were truly “non-essential” we scrutinised our business, finding the weaker spots, adapting, aiming for a brighter, more polished product. The image I had in my head during this time was of my business as a diamond, holding it to the light to find out which way to cut it to make it spark and shine, cutting and recutting to add value and pizzazz. Because, three, the hospitality businesses still standing respect the fact that customers are now making real choices about how to spend it. By real, I mean we’re not all flocking out on the town every night; we’re choosing when and where we go and with whom. The destination has to be special, and you want to know that staff care, really care. And they do, because four: it’s all about the staff and those who are still working in this sector are the best of the best, hospitality professionals who have survived the label “non-essential” (you’ll note I’m peeved about that). We are still here through choice, and with confidence.
Ah, staffing. Yes, there is an issue here for hospitality as for so many other sectors. It’s nothing to do with wages; every independent I know is scrupulous in paying the right salary for the right staff. I think it’s a much more cultural problem in that, at every level, working in hospitality is viewed as a stop-gap, “non-essential”. And so the current drive towards quality over quantity can only help. The reboot will take time, maybe years, but the immediate upshot and the upside to the staffing crisis you have been reading about is that every person you meet in independent hospitality today is here because we want to be. We’re in it for the long haul. We’re still passionate about laughter, and fun, and romance. Let’s get together, now, and make that “non essential” magic happen.