‘It will come down to survival of the fittest which is really tough’

The  Staff Canteen

What does the end of lockdown for hospitality look like from a media, marketing and PR perspective?

The Staff Canteen editor Cara Houchen discusses the survival of restaurants  with top industry PRs and journalists, and how they and those reliant on them, need to adapt and diversify to get through what is being described as ‘a lost year’.

The hospitality industry is waiting desperately to find out what the governments lockdown exit strategy will be so plans can be put in place to get things moving again. But while the industry waits so do the businesses which rely on it to be thriving, successful and most importantly open.

“I think we are very much in the calm before the storm period,” said Tanya Layzell-Payne, founder of Gerber Communications. “The opening weeks and months are going to be the hardest.

“It will come down to survival of the fittest which is really tough.”

Sauce Communications should have been celebrating 20 years in the business this month and co-founder Nicky Hancock said: “Never would we have predicted the time we have fallen upon.”

They have a number of clients all approaching lockdown in different ways, including James Cochran who has 1251, and is running a very successful delivery business. But looking ahead they do have concerns, Sauce client Sat Bains, said to Nicky ‘it may be easier to social distance in the front of the restaurant but how are we going to social distance in the kitchen?’.

“There are so many individual challenges that they are going to have to overcome,” she explained. “I’ve spoken to a lot of hoteliers too who are hoping to open their hotels in mind July, but the F and B will not be opening at the same time.”

As PR agencies they are all in close contact with clients or in the case of journalist Richard Vines, chefs, and they are all supporting the big campaign, #NationalTimeOut. They all hope that hospitality gets more attention than it has in the past as ‘a proper industry’.

“I’ve been impressed how everyone has swung behind Jonathan Downey,” said Richard, chief food critic at Bloomberg. “The industry has spoken with a complete unified voice.”

He added: “I think the feeling now is it is going to be quite a slow start when restaurants and bars do open, particularly bars.”

Everyone is experiencing the impact in different ways and the job of PRs now is to support the industry in any way they can.

“No one really knows what the other side is going to look like yet,” said Tanya. “I don’t know how 50 percent occupancy and screens for example can be financially viable for a restaurant.

“All of our clients are working behind the scenes to figure out what they can be doing now and then the options for the other side.”

Crab Communications only got off the ground in January this year, so it wasn’t the start co-founder Tom Rogers had been hoping for. He is however optimistic that restaurants will get back to where they were pre-coronavirus, and said: “Ultimately, it will go back – we are keeping an eye on Hong Kong, Asia and the rest of Europe as they open up in the hope we can grab some ideas of what we can do.

“You won’t see a stampede of people coming back to restaurants, maybe a small one of people like us, the industry and younger people who are not so worried about getting Coronavirus or the effects.”

He added: “There are so many things restaurants are going to have to consider before people come back in comfortably.”

Let’s not forget that those who work in the hospitality industry are not just clients or stories, they are friends and as Richard points out all the people he mixes with are from the restaurant business.

He said: “I know people who have spent years developing their business and to just lose it is shocking.”

Nicky added: “I think there will be a lot of heartbreak, we’ve been in this industry a long time and all of these chefs are our friends who have worked so hard.”

As we wait for the next stage of this pandemic nightmare, the major concern is how many casualties there will be in the hospitality industry, and if the industry struggles to get back on its feet will there be a need for a luxury like PR?

“Everyone is having to diversify, our business is heavily reliant on the hospitality industry and without restaurants it’s going to be tough,” explained Tanya. “I do think there will be a place for PR, arguably more than ever – but we will need to adapt to a different approach and a different mindset.”

Nicky agrees saying ‘there will always be a need for restaurant PR’.

“It’s going to be very, very hard,” she said. “But together we will get the industry back on its feet.”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th May 2020

‘It will come down to survival of the fittest which is really tough’