Mark Wingett and I (but mainly Mark) have been conducting a series of interviews with senior operators in the sector to discover their thoughts about covid-19 – pre, during and post the crisis. I have also been interviewing a number of suppliers to understand their perspective. The interviews have been insightful, interesting, and informative and there have been some common threads running through them:
– Universal acclaim for what Kate Nicholls from UKHospitality has done, and continues to do, to promote the interests of the sector to government. Her intellect and focus have been praised as well as her tenacity and determination. She understands government and the process (and patience) needed to communicate a very clear message to those who need to be persuaded to support us.
– A recognition of the “good guys” in the sector – those that have gone above and beyond to help others by providing resource, learnings and support to those that have wanted it. There has been intense collaboration and a real desire to work together and those that “give” have been noticed.
– Surprise and delight at the support that has been given to our sector (and others), including furloughing (and the generous extension of the scheme), loans, grants, the pushback over rent and service charge payment, HM Revenue & Customs deferrals and the bounce back scheme.
– There is a frustration from some suppliers – totally dependent on our sector – they are classed by specialism (e.g. technology/construction) rather than by sector and have therefore missed out on local grants.
– A real need for clarity now from the government on reopening dates and social distancing measures – two metres versus one metre being the main one. Also, there is a desire for government consistency with its pronouncements.
– A realisation operators are on their own in terms of negotiation with specific landlords and the government is unlikely to interfere any more than it has done already. There is also a sense among many there needs to be compromise and consultation rather than conflict, but at the moment the sector is heading towards the latter with two entrenched and very different viewpoints.
– While everyone feels business will be different post-covid-19, no one really knows how this will manifest itself (and everyone hates the term – “the new normal”). They can do all they like to protect the safety of customers and teams but it’s all pointless if footfall doesn’t return. There are some positive stories (e.g. from France) but some equally horrendous ones. Scenario planning has been intense and relentless in response to rapidly changing events.
– There is some concern thousands will have to be spent sorting out social distancing, which will then have to be written off when it all stops. Perspex sourcing has become a skill in itself.
– Delivery, click-and-collect, takeaway, recipe boxes and online shops for both food and drink have helped some companies tick along but they are not seen as any sort of indicator of how business might be when reopened. Most operators say they will lose money at anything below 80% of previous business – some will stay shut until that seems very likely while others will go early to gain a market share advantage and take the loss week-on-week.
– A lot of effort has gone into communicating creatively and consistently with teams – videos, quizzes, advice, recipes, cooking demonstrations, chats, WhatsApp groups, Yapster conversations – to keep them up to date. There has been real honesty in these communications although operators have not always been able to give clear answers to their teams because they haven’t had the answers themselves.
– Most have kept in touch with customers though not to the same degree or level of creativity. Teams have been a first priority.
– Operators and suppliers have been examining every single cost in minute detail across the whole of the supply chain. There is no doubt huge cost reductions are on their way, which will be particularly noticeable in headcount at every level. There is a fine line being tread between furloughing, part-time working and redundancies.
– For some this crisis has presented the opportunity they have needed for some time to sort out their structure, headcount, property portfolio, rents, overheads and other P&L costs.
– Pragmatism has been a key characteristic of the leaders I have interviewed. Without question most are “glass half full” type of people but this crisis has tested their optimism to the limit. They want to reopen and trade again but not at any cost. There has been a real need to think the “unthinkable” and they have been prepared to do just that.
These interviews to me have reflected some of the key attributes of people in this sector – honesty, optimism, determination, care, passion, and kindness.