'There's no way we're going to lose an entire industry, I'm just sad for those that aren't going to make it'

The Staff Canteen

Now that we have a roadmap, we have something like a plan, and the numbers are starting to show that some parts of hospitality are likely to recover from the mass casualties they have suffered over the past year. 

Alex Bond of Alchemilla won't be opening until June, as he doesn't believe the government will be able to stick to its timeline.

"I don't trust that floppy-haired c***," he said. "I don't know why everyone seems to think that all of a sudden because Boris Johnson says we can reopen on 17th May, he's going to stick to that." 

"I like nobody don't want to come across as the cynical one," he added, "and I hope I'm wrong and Boris is right and on 17th everyone can sling their doors open and in the middle of June we all go back to normal, I want nothing more than that." 

When he does open, he'll be bringing his full team back as soon as he opens, and is braced to slowly recover the debt he has incurred over the past year. 

But for him, to see the light at the end of the tunnel is bittersweet, as he knows that his restaurant is lucky to be among those fine dining restaurants with a loyal customer base, but that not all are so fortuitous. 

"I've got kids and a wife and a mortgage and members of staff that I've got to look after. So of course, I'm buzzing for them, but it's hard to say I'm optimistic.

"There's no way we're going to lose an entire industry, I'm just sad for those that aren't going to make it." 

And that's where Alex hit the nail on the head: despite what he perceives as the systematic mishandling of the past year by the government, like many, he is convinced that there are resilient businesses in the industry that will push through, survive and maybe even thrive in the coming months. 

One of those might be that of Andrew Pern, the chef patron of the 25 year-old Star Inn at Harome. When with the rest of the industry he was forced into closure, he resigned himself to his fate and cooked for the NHS until he could open again, then was closed once more, and was sat in an empty room except for the pile of bills as we spoke. 

But now, finally, he has reason to feel hopeful again. 

The hotel is booked to 98 percent occupancy over the coming months, and, with plans to increase the number of rooms from 13 to 20, and five acres of land surrounding the pub, last summer's restrictions and any potential delays to the government roadmap aren't a frightening prospect.

"In the first lockdown we developed the 'drinking field' as we called it, which is very much for people having drinks, families can come with their kids and have a kick about, play in the field and others dining with us wouldn't be hassled - that worked out really well.

"We're in the process of developing another over an old swimming pool," which, he said, will add another 40 covers. 

"We're taking on staff as fast as we can, hoping for good weather, buying more parasols and chairs and going for it." 

"There's never a dull moment around these parts," he laughed. 

Parts of the hospitality industry won't ever recover

But as pointed out by Alex, the pandemic has polarised the economic situation in which businesses have found themselves - and while those who have stayed afloat will likely prosper, some of the damage done is irreperable.

"I think a lot of it will be fine, when we get back open," he said. "After the Spanish flu and the second world war came the roaring twenties. People were done and fed up. People will go out and they will spend and the streets will be full and people will buy, because ultimately we're at a stage we're only we're shut, and nightclubs." 

"But I think part of it is f**ked, permanently.

Awarding little if any credit to the government and its support for the industry, he said: "We will rebuild it ourselves. They won't. You can feel the help whittling away already, they're already gearing us towards cutting it off." 

"I don't want to sound too cynical," he hastened to add. "They've done some good things: the furlough scheme, no business rates, reduced VAT - are all great - but it's definitely tapering off." 

As for those who fail to recognise the significance of the closure of chains, or even celebrate it, anticipating a return of more independent restaurants, he said: "Those are people's lives. People say 'chains are fine, they've got loads of money, but every chain has thousands of individual lives and stories and families attached to it, with children dependent on them and their own s**t to deal with. 

"It's no good saying Carluccio's is okay. It's how many thousands of people worked for Carluccio's, PizzaExpress, Las Iguanas. They're all lives. It doesn't feel like people understand, or if they do understand, it's worse, because they don't care." 

For Andrew, one thing is for certain, and that is that the industry will need public support to recover, and no matter what hardships the industry has suffered, that fact makes it a two-way street. Now, less than ever, is it time to take guests for granted.

"It's up to us to make sure that we look after people and give them the best experience that they've obviously been waiting quite a long time for." 

"We need to maximise on all parts, not just taking the money, but giving a great experience back to everybody - Great British hospitality. At the end of the day, that's what we're known for."

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th March 2021

'There's no way we're going to lose an entire industry, I'm just sad for those that aren't going to make it'