The darkest of days: Why the hospitality industry must come together

At the risk of stating the obvious, I’ve never witnessed anything like this during my 30+ years in the hospitality industry. The impact of COVID-19 was exacerbated last week by the Prime Minister’s initial decision to ‘advise’ people to avoid venues such as restaurants and subsequently by the government directive to close to diners.

While events have left us facing a very uncertain future, our current decision is to keep going however possible: to keep serving the people of London and to save as many jobs as we can while we do that. Our fundamental principles haven’t changed – we are taking decisions based on what we believe is right for the good of the whole team and will do everything in our power to look after them.

There is also a greater good here at play, which is why we have adopted a series of community initiatives, including discounts and drops for NHS, police and military workers, support for the elderly and replacement free school meals for underprivileged children. I strongly believe this is the right thing to do and where our industry can play a critical role.

On that note, despite us all facing the darkest of days, I can honestly say I have never been prouder to be part of this industry. Our team has been incredible in terms of their solidarity, their commitment and their positivity in the face of a challenge none of us have faced before. But this goes beyond us, my respect and admiration for people in the wider industry was already high, but events of the past few days have seen them reach new heights. Kate Nicholls, (CEO of UK Hospitality) and Jonathan Downey (Milk & Honey/London Union) have worked tirelessly to lobby the government to get the support provided so far. 

Times like this are a true test of characters and what I can say with absolute conviction is that this industry is full of magnificent people. Competitors have become collaborators; accountants have become delivery drivers; and everywhere I look there are selfless acts aimed at helping others.

So we have the right people with the right attitude to steer us through this crisis, but crucially we still need support. The measures unveiled by Chancellor Rishi Sunak last Friday came as a pleasant surprise – measures like grants to cover up to 80% of people not working but kept on payroll, and being able to defer VAT are all welcomed, but we still need support on our rental costs and the best way for this would be a Lease Forfeiture Moratorium for the next 6 months that would protect commercial tenants from landlords being able to change the locks if rental payments are unable to be made. 

It genuinely feels like the government has listened, which after weeks of ambiguity was a welcome relief. We’ll need to see how the detail plays out, but on the face of it this could lead to hundreds of thousands of jobs being saved and we’re being given a fighting chance, let’s hope the support continues with further measures.

In the meantime at Qoot we’re going to continue to be driven by a deep sense of purpose – that of looking after our incredible team; that of looking after those people like NHS workers who are literally performing miracles every day right now; and continuing to serve our customers in whichever way we can.

Just like everyone else, I don’t have a magic formula. Just like everyone else we are prepared for a long hard struggle despite the government’s new measures. What I can say is that we are all in this together – the more we can share knowledge and learnings, the more we can come together, the better the chance we have of getting through this… and when – not if, when – we come out the other side we will be stronger for it.

By Simon Wright, COO of hospitality group QOOT

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