Why the hospitality sector needs you - Craig Burman

Over the first weekend of the hospitality sector reopening with outdoor service, the sun shone and people flocked to fill tables and taste a bit of normality.

Social distancing sign in Leeds city centre.
Social distancing sign in Leeds city centre.

Bars and restaurants across the region faced a herculean effort to restart with procedures that keep their staff and customers safe. The legislation they face is for everyone’s protection but carries significant risk to the ongoing operations of any licensed business.

Operators are walking a fine line between opening up under restrictions that both increase cost and limit their ability to generate revenue.

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Our experts have been working hard to ensure that businesses across the hospitality sector have the support they need to reopen with confidence.

Policing Covid-secure measures will prove an ongoing logistical challenge and a significant risk of incurring bad media coverage or online criticism as blanket rules are applied to individual circumstances.

Social distancing is largely incompatible with pub and food culture, and alcohol consumption only serves to exacerbate people’s desire to mingle. Operators will need to equip staff to deal with customers who won’t abide by the rules and be ready to deal with any potential backlash.

British weather is famously changeable and the potential for bad weather to impact outdoor trading is clear. Many bars and restaurants have spent heavily on increasing and improving their outdoor spaces and need a warm and dry few weeks to recoup their investment.

Managing long queues or online booking systems takes additional funding and oversight that many smaller venues may struggle to meet. Many newly-created outdoor spaces do not comply with the legislation, being more than 50pc enclosed. It remains to be seen how strictly this is enforced by the authorities.

As we move to lift restrictions on indoor hospitality on May 17, the challenges of maintaining social distancing inside will return. Many operators have procedures in place from the tiered restrictions imposed in 2020.

The restrictions on May 17 make it difficult to operate anything other than plate service and therefore rule out any carvery or buffet business models. Table service inside will squeeze profits through increased staffing levels and reduced occupancy.

All these changes are taking place in an economy that is recovering from record falls last year – and customers may well be still watching the pennies.

The latest government figures estimated the hospitality industry contributed £59.3bn to the UK economy, around 3 per cent of total economic output. It accounts for 7 per cent of UK employment.

The hospitality sector was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Restrictions on trading were in place for most of last year and will remain in place, in one way or another, well into 2021. As a result, hospitality business turnover has been severely impacted with resulting closures and job losses.

It’s a sector that is hugely entrepreneurial and resilient. It will navigate the challenges of the next few months and may emerge stronger. The restrictions are forcing the pace of technology adoption with everything from at table ordering apps to alternative revenue streams, such as the boom in online food delivery.

Hopefully, many venues will retain their outdoor spaces, which will help to promote some of the continental cafe culture to which Britons often aspire.

The hospitality industry needs you. Take the time to visit a cafe, restaurant or pub over the coming months. Enjoy a meal or pint while observing all the measures that are in place to keep you safe.

And above all, be kind.

Craig Burman is a partner at Schofield Sweeney


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