It’s time to stand together to support the hospitality and foodservice industry, says Brakes’ Hugo Mahoney
Who would have predicted a year ago that governments around the world would force pubs and restaurants to close their doors and that we would see entire countries locked down? The past six months have been among the most extraordinary that the hospitality industry has ever, and is ever, likely to face. Beyond the human tragedy of the lost lives, family disruption, unemployment and missed opportunities, our industry has been affected more than most, and the impacts will likely be felt for many years to come.
It is incredibly sad to see the demise of many in the restaurant sector, and some customers and businesses that we’ve served for many years have fallen by the wayside.
But out of adversity, we have also seen some tremendous examples of the industry’s versatility and inventiveness, as many operators flipped their business models to try to make the best of a difficult situation.
We’ve seen pubs becoming local shops, restaurants becoming takeaways, and hospitals and care homes provide retail services to their staff. They did this not simply to survive, but also to reinforce their crucial role as community hubs.
The community supply support that, alongside Bidfood, we provided through care packages to the shielded, came to an end in July, with more than 5m boxes delivered. This was a literal lifeline to the most vulnerable in our society. As much as I’ve been proud of the role wholesale and our supply chains have played in supporting the endeavor to feed the nation, our focus has turned to supporting hospitality to get back on its feet.
The end of lockdown saw a steady, if unspectacular, return for many businesses, but one which gave them confidence that the post-lockdown restrictions can be safely managed. I am always impressed to see the considerable efforts our customers are taking to keep their patrons and their staff safe. The industry faces an extended period of uncertainty, with many unknowns and higher costs driven by continued hygiene, safety and social distancing measures.
It is therefore good news that the sector has been recognised within the Chancellor’s agenda. The cut in VAT until early next year and the Eat Out to Help Out initiatives are fantastic and are seeing some great results. In fact, according to data from Kantar Worldpanel Plus, Eat Out to Help Out saw footfall to pubs and bars tipping over the pre-Covid average for the first time since March. Hospitality businesses serving ‘staycation’ areas are also seeing pre-Covid level results.
However, not all parts of hospitality are benefitting equally, and we hope that the last restrictions are lifted as soon as is safely possible.
While the early results are encouraging, these initiatives are not a panacea. Right now we’ve enjoyed an August heatwave that means pub gardens were full and terrace seating was hard to come by, but soon winter will be upon us, and perhaps with a new set of socially-distanced challenges if the virus does not remain controlled. A full school return will feel like a return to some normality, and it is fantastic to see people enjoying socialising and eating out.
From the start of the pandemic the wholesale industry has shown its resourcefulness, responding to changing market needs and launching a raft of new services and products. We cannot stop there, and we need to continue to be alert as the market, and our customers, adapt to the changing conditions. Understanding how we can help customers to maximise their returns and reduce their costs is not a nice-to-do, it’s an imperative. Autumn will be a crucial period, once the summer rush is over, and it is still unclear to most of our customers what services they intend to run over Christmas.
It is becoming evident to everyone that we’re all in this together, we’re all learning how to adapt – but our role, with expertise across the supply chain and in supporting hospitality businesses big and small, remains vital.
Brakes, for example, has already launched a support package with financial, product and expert advice to try to play our part to help businesses over the next few months.
We all need to come together to back our industry organisations as they lobby government for the necessary support for wholesale and hospitality businesses, which have and will continue to suffer more than most. Now, more than ever, it is vital that we stand as one to support an industry that we all love and that is facing difficult times ahead.
Hugo Mahoney is the chief executive of Brakes