How to make the most of lockdown

Guest writer & on-trade expert, Jonathan Watt, gives his tips to get ahead of the competition ready for when you re-open.

There’s no denying the sheer scale of Covid-19’s impact on the world, both for its people and its businesses. And arguably no sector has been stricken into a greater state of paralysis than hospitality, now for a 2nd time.

Recent years have thrown up all sorts of crises for the on-trade from political uncertainty to crippling rises in business rates.

But the trade is nothing if not resilient; demonstrated time and again by operators, up and down the country, who have made our fantastic and vibrant pub, bar and restaurant scene what it is today. Their desire to deliver superb experiences in their venues, combined with a commitment to hard work and enterprise, is there to be seen right across the UK.

Although it’s hard to see light at the tunnel, better days will arrive for hospitality as one thing is certain; after weeks of being stuck indoors, isolated from family and friends, we will no longer take for granted the ability to go for a drink or a meal.

When the current lockdown is lifted, there is likely to be a swell of consumer appetite to get back out the house and into their favourite venues and there are a few key things operators can do in the current downtime to ready themselves for reopening to ensure they bounce back with a bang.

Your checklist of things you can do in lockdown

A little freshening up and a spring clean can go a long way

Whilst staff members who are furloughed are unable to work, operators can use this time to carry out some small improvements and undertake some spring cleaning around their venues.

Whether it’s applying a new lick of paint to the walls or simply making sure the place, and all the equipment within it, is given a substantial deep clean and tidy before reopening, there are tasks to be found in outlets.

It’s also worth remembering that when the national quarantine is lifted, there could be new guidelines put in place for businesses to comply with. This could include measures such as keeping a minimum distance between tables, so it may be worthwhile keeping this in mind if and when reviewing your layout and capacity.

Get the hammer and nails out for a bit of DIY

Have you ever tried to have a giant hole in a wall plastered whilst running a busy bar which is open from breakfast until 1am every day? We recently spoke to one operator with this quandary; he plans to use the time to carry out some improvements.

“We’re open seven days a week so sometimes it’s difficult to do even the simple things - so an actual period of maintenance is near enough impossible,” he said. “I know a lot of places are the same and there’s some papering over the cracks unless they are closed for a refurbishment, so this will give bar owners time to get at least some of the things they can do themselves resolved ahead of reopening.”

Looking ahead, it’s also worth using this downtime constructively to plan what aesthetic changes would work well in venues and plan them out. Drawing people further towards spending time on Facebook and Instagram, this year has demonstrated, and furthered, how fundamental social media is. So, considering how ‘instagrammable’ a venue is and where it can be improved from the floor to the perfect lighting can provide a newfound popularity for outlets.

Get looking good for those judging a bar by its cover

You never get a second chance to make a first impression; it may be an old saying but it’s as relevant as ever - particularly for operators. As the exterior of a venue is the first thing that any potential customers will notice as they pass the business, the importance of creating the right look initially with increased curb appeal can be a crucial factor for drawing in customers.

Whether it’s trendy new neon signage or a new plan on how to revamp and make the most of the pub garden with new plants, outdoor furniture and equipment, a new look for a pub’s façade can be good news for those behind the venue.

Remember, this doesn’t need to cost a lot, do you have any furniture that needs a simple upcycle? Can you tidy up your garden furniture with a little sanding down and a fresh lick of varnish? These are simple and cost-effective things you can do that you wouldn’t otherwise have the time to complete in the run up to the summer months to keep your outlet looking fresh.

Staff training and ready to serve

With staff knowledge becoming of growing significance to those visiting the pubs and bars, the lockdown presents trade staff who wish to further their expertise in the world of food and drink with the perfect chance to brush up on their skills and advance their knowledge of key areas.

While obviously this kind of training can’t be made mandatory for bar staff, those who are enthusiastic about the trade and are looking to make a career in the sector may enjoy participating in some of the training that has been made available free of charge. From subjects such as Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) modules to business management and marketing, there is interesting training available for all levels of the trade.

We've got some new bartender training guides that perhaps your staff could benefit from. Click here to find out more.

Speaking to one operator of a London cocktail bar, they are sending WSET training to their staff to do if they wish, picking a different spirit category each week, and going into depth with it to deepen all staff members’ knowledge of drinks.  This is something which will be appreciated once customers come back through the doors and busy schedules start to make such undertakings more difficult.

Stocktaking: it’s a date

Naturally, there is the challenging issue of stock with a frustrating amount of waste to be expected during the lockdown. With use-by dates posing some obvious problems, naturally spirits and liqueurs will keep - however beers, some wines and syrups will leave publicans with a short window in which to utilise the products with shorter lifespans.

The best way to tackle this is with a little organisation and creative thinking; this creates a good opportunity for cocktails of the week and to upsell certain drinks. Keeping on top of dates during the current quarantine will mean you’ll be able to stock up quickly and efficiently once your outlet is allowed to reopen.

Reviewing your ranges

Time to just sit back and think had been in very short supply until recently, as the season of spring has in a sense been cancelled by Covid-19, making any plans for seasonal food and drink redundant. Yet, the chance presented to licensees now is extra time to prepare with hope for a special summer.

Take time to review what has been working and selling well in your outlet to date, while considering what hasn’t been shifting quite as fast as you would have liked. It could be cocktails, beer, wine or mixers. Embracing the summer is a sure-fire route to success; there are plenty of great products designed for the season that will be in-demand and are available to operators. Visit the recipe and menuology sections to help inspire what your offering could look like this summer.

A trade like no other

The licensed trade is a great community, dedicated to ensuring every customer who walks through the doors is taken care of in the best possible way.  Many of those who work in the industry are genuinely selfless and experts at making guests feel at home.

At this time, when it’s all too easy for people to be down, take the time to look after yourself and ensure you’re doing what you can to return to work in the best health and mind frame, check in with staff on Whatsapp group chats, staff Facebook pages and with them individually as well. It’s essential for employees to feel cared for and part of the business and this will help them come back to work with a stride in their step when it’s time to welcome customers through the doors of the nation’s fantastic venues once more.

Any other admin

Now is also a great time to check up on any licences which may be close to expiring and making sure they aren’t forgotten about and allowed to lapse, even if they still have some months to run.

And one Glasgow-based bar manager told us that he’s expecting some heavy first shifts back when the lockdown ends, so a staff refresher on the law is advised.

“I think there’s a responsibility to make sure every member of staff is well up on licensing law from the off,” he said. “If everyone goes back to the pub in a big way after this, having not been drinking or interacting socially as much for many weeks, it’s going to be challenging.

“So, it’s important that the team is made aware of what their responsibilities and protections they have over that first burst of custom.”

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