“So hoping that we all see some cheer in the new year and put 2020 down to a proper annus horribilis” – a message repeated, though maybe worded differently, in many of the Christmas cards I’ve opened this year.
I am not alone in thinking that the 2020 annus horribilis will continue through the first quarter and possibly into the second in 2021. The government seems to be walking (with some determination) away from the sector believing it has supported it as much as it wants to, or is going to do, through Eat Out To Help Out, furlough, loans, £1,000 payments, VAT reduction, rates moratorium and the intervention on rents.
Despite our brilliant and intense lobbying, I don’t believe any more support will be forthcoming. We can protest as much as we like but it feels like no one is listening, understands or is interested any more in what we have to say. It’s as though they’ve heard it all before and just want the sector to move on and stop complaining. Perhaps they are thinking: “OK, some of you will go bust. That’s not great but so be it. We are not going to support businesses that might fail anyway. See you mid-2021 when we will pick up the pieces we want to pick up.”
We are not behaving impeccably as a sector and neither are our customers. The majority of friends I know are not adhering to 100% of the rules 100% of the time. They are picking and choosing which ones they are following (and then sometimes indignant at others who break different rules to them). I have been into pubs and restaurants where it’s patently obvious there is more than one household sitting at a table inside. I don’t mind and I can’t criticise for a minute. I do wonder though how much of this is being noted by the government.
I think we are on now on our own for the next four to six months.
Some businesses, of course, have performed well in 2020 including QSR, delivery, drive-thrus, food and drink retail, online offers and restaurants/food-led suburban and rural pubs (for some of the year). There has been a seismic shift in consumer behaviour that has benefited and will continue to benefit these companies – with or without government support.
It’s not been an equitable world. Others have not done OK. I was going to say, “… and we all know who they are” but we don’t. There will be thousands of founders and entrepreneurs who earned their living from their own restaurant, pub, hotel or B&B but don’t any longer. There will be thousands of suppliers in our sector who have had to shut up shop and are now watching their savings disappear as they try to hold themselves and their families together. Not all of them will have been able to access government funding either. They are on their own for different reasons.
Like many others, I feel angry, depressed, frustrated and powerless. Like many others, I will hunker down over the next few months and help as many companies and individuals as I can to get their businesses in good order and ready to start again as soon as they can. We have no other option.
So many operator businesses I know are now much leaner than they were even six months ago. They are faster and more agile. They have removed loss-making sites so they aren’t distracted from growing sales in their best sites. They have streamlined processes, consultation, collaboration and decision making. Taking out layers of management has resulted in them becoming more innovative and willing to try and fail. They have “sorted out” their debt and have funding. They are ready to acquire and are now looking again.
So alongside frustration is an optimism about next year and the art of the possible. There is a lot of fresh and innovative thinking out there. We may be on our own as far as the government is concerned but we are not alone as a sector. Perhaps now is the time to put our efforts into working together for the future rather than trying to plead our cause with a government that thinks it has done enough and doesn’t appear to want to listen.