How can the hospitality industry survive and re-build?
Joanne Barratt, managing director, The Venues Collection discusses how the hospitality industry has struggled in the pandemic and what the industry can do to help it re-build again.
Hospitality and events are often cited to be two separate industries, but they are intrinsically linked. Without hospitality, your event venue won’t be able to welcome your delegates, serve them lunch, or accommodate them overnight. The hospitality industry is currently on its knees and what’s happening will have a huge impact on events.
The combination of Brexit and Covid-19 is having a detrimental effect on the appeal of working in hospitality, from the chefs creating our menus to the pickers and packers of food, the housekeeping staff to F&B managers. Many hospitality workers were originally from the EU, and the impact of Brexit has meant that an estimated 92,000 EU nationals* have decided to leave the UK and head home because it is now harder to work here. Couple that with a pandemic that shut down an entire industry, and forced the people working in hospitality to find other work and we have an industry that has been decimated.
Hospitality has the reputation of being hard work coupled with long and unsociable hours. The lockdowns forced many of our colleagues to find work outside of the industry and some prefer this alternative. Covid-19 has enabled people to revaluate their lives, and many have realised that long hours and hard work isn’t what they want, despite the benefits the industry brings.
Customers are also more demanding than they were before and are returning to restaurants and hotels in full force. People want to eat out, to meet up and to stay over. But their high demands are having a negative impact on the small teams just trying to get by.
There is also a nervousness in the industry, will we have to go through another full lockdown? How would we survive if we did? Events are coming back, but there is still an air of caution amongst bookers and a need for the highest levels of flexibility.
As we come back to pre-Covid levels of business, the industry doesn’t have the staff that we used to have. The events industry is working hard, and predictions show that events will be back to normal in 2022. But that will not happen if the venues and hotels are not able to cope with the demand.
Demand, survive and re-build
The first thing we need to do is look after our own teams. Short-staffed teams can only do so much, they need support from the top to ensure that they don’t burn out. We need to look at the problem and come up with creative solutions. For example, we recently received an application from a chef, but she was a single parent who could only work during school hours. Before Covid-19 we would have wanted her to work in the evenings or to cover breakfasts, but we decided to look at the problem differently. So much of our business is conferences and training events and so we do need daytime chefs, so we have taken her on to only cover these daytime needs and to relieve the pressure from our full-time chefs who can then focus on the mornings and evenings.
The events industry may need to get used to some venues and restaurants being closed some of the time which means that availability may become an issue. Some restaurants have recently had to close due to a lack of staff; this is impacting every restaurant, hotel, and venue of every location and of every size.
We need everyone using venues and hotels to have patience, to be understanding, and to be accommodating to the exacting times the industry is dealing with.
We also need to grow our own. We are part of Compass Group UK & Ireland and as such we have an array of training, apprenticeship and development opportunities to help our staff to develop and grow, or even change paths entirely.
The third thing we as an industry need to do is to go back to grassroots and ensure that school leavers and graduates know that working in hospitality offers a viable, stable and rewarding career path. We need to share the success stories, get involved with developing the courses and encourage more people into our vibrant and rewarding industry.
In 12 months’ time, we will be back to normal and the hospitality teams that have worked through this will find themselves in an enviable and unique position. They will have unprecedented experienced and they will have survived the toughest period ever know to our industry. Their skillset will be exceptional; they will be more agile, creative and knowledgeable. They will be much better equipped for the future and will have learnt more in 18 months than many do in a lifetime.
There are a number of industry initiatives being led by key associations and companies to help hospitality to recover; I urge you all to get behind them to ensure that our industry not only survives but thrives over the next 12 months and beyond.