In March, you could only meet others from outside your household in very limited circumstances, now you can meet one friend in an outdoor public place. Now schools, colleges and universities will all remain open during lockdown, as will nurseries and other childcare when they were closed in March. Public toilets will remain open this time.
Many people are going into this lockdown as part of a support “bubble”, a concept that didn’t exist back in March. While non-essential shops are closing once again, this time, click and collect is allowed. Garden centres can also stay open in lockdown two, as can waste tips, dentists, opticians, chiropractors and osteopaths.
This time, the government has not placed any time limit on recreational activities: meeting a friend in the park for a walk or sitting on a bench and eating a sandwich is perfectly fine. You can also take unlimited exercise because the new lockdown guidance says “you can and should still travel to… spend time or exercise outdoors. This should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel to do so if necessary”. In this lockdown, no one will formally shield – itself not a household term in March
So the scope of lockdown is different. It also feels different to me. From a glass half-empty perspective, it’s now dark and cold, working from home isn’t a refreshing change anymore and I no longer believe that the world will go back to normal at the end of lockdown. I thought we would all pull through in March but I have friends in this sector that I am now truly worried about from both a financial and a mental health perspective.
Our sector has changed enormously from lockdown to lockdown. I have been in the sector for a very long time and never ever seen such transformational change enacted in such a short space of time. It has been quite amazing. I cannot honestly think of any business I know that hasn’t seized the opportunity to be innovative, to move at speed, to break down barriers, to launch new initiatives or to throw everything up in the air and think again.
Operators have taken the opportunity to rapidly expand their delivery operations, to introduce click and collect, to create drive-thrus they didn’t have before and to introduce order and pay at table at breakneck speed. They have built online retail stores from scratch, developed kits to cook at home, food boxes, collaborated with others they didn’t even know in March and reinvented their spaces to incorporate social distancing.
Their teams have adapted so well to welcoming guests with health and safety warnings, to the wearing of masks, to asking customers to register with QR codes, sanitise their hands and have their temperature taken, to reduced capacity, online booking only, table service, Eat Out To Help Out and to facing, sometimes, very rude and frustrated guests – who would ever have thought?
Operators have cut offices space, sites, teams, hours, menus and drink ranges. They have had to quickly build CRM systems, loyalty schemes and ongoing team and customer communications processes. Some have created magical outdoor dining spaces, bought fire pits and introduced interesting indoor dining companions (think mannequins at Inception group).
So many businesses learnt how to work with the NHS from a standing start with Feed our Frontline. Others launched farmers’ shops, community centres, local deliveries through their own transport and went out of their way to help others less fortunate than themselves. The energy and determination in this sector has been truly inspiring with whole teams moving with so much speed and so much agility.
Of course, there are many unresolved issues for this sector to face – rents and rates being two huge items for consideration. I am not ignoring these. I do, however, feel that operators are generally in a much better place this time round than they were seven months ago. They have shown huge leadership, amazing resilience, outstanding creativity and delivered exciting innovation in the most difficult of times. They are tired and drained. They don’t want “to go again” but they will.
I know not every industry commentator agrees but I do think, in a glass half-full frame of mind, there are things to be positive about. We have an outstanding trade body, our sector has collaborated in unprecedented ways, there is pent-up consumer demand and hospitality, more than ever, is at the heart of our neighbourhoods and communities. There is light at the end of the tunnel.