AS the UK’s hospitality industry prepares to relight its stoves and fire up its expresso machines, leading business owners from Nottingham’s once thriving café and dining scene reveal the lessons learned from lockdown and how their establishments are planning to re-open and importantly survive post Covid-19, to ensure their customers continue to enjoy the city’s dining out experiences.

Michelin starred chefs Sat Bains and Alex Bond, along with Rob Darby, CEO of café chain 200 Degrees and Nottingham-born winner of BBC Masterchef 2018 Laurence Henry, all took part in an hour-long CC Live webisode for PR agency Cartwright Communications – specialists in communications for the food and drink sector.   

Talking candidly about the future of the hospitality industry, the chefs and business owners all agreed that a cautious approach to re-opening is necessary and that almost certainly there will be casualties as businesses struggle with ongoing overheads limited income streams.

Restaurant Sat Bains’ owner and Michelin starred chef Sat Bains said, “We have to remember that there could be a lot of restaurants that go to the wall which is heart-breaking. This industry has given us a phenomenal career and life and we want to see that is passed on to the younger generation of chefs, so there will undoubtedly be a lot of nervousness about re-opening from restauranteurs and customers alike.

“We have to make people feel secure that their health and safety is of paramount importance before we open our doors. People have lost their lives in this pandemic and we have to respect that. It is the biggest humbling factor as we think about our businesses."

As Nottingham’s restaurants and cafes prepare to open to seated customers from 4 July, Alex Bond, owner of Michelin star restaurant Alchemilla, is understandably cautious about opening the doors of his Derby Road establishment too soon and not being able to offer his customers the high levels of service which are so important to Alex and his staff.

“I can’t say for sure that we’ll be open in July or August. I want to open a restaurant that is my restaurant, the restaurant that we built, that isn’t somebody talking to you with a mask on. There is something ultimately social about being in a restaurant. Customers talking about a dish that they love with a smile on their face – all the little nuances and quirks that will be all lost if you have to talk behind a mask or a screen with everyone two metres apart.

“I have realised how important restaurants are to people for the social interaction, so I want to make sure that when we do open it is absolutely right for us and our customers.”

Initiatives including a food collection service, which Bond is looking to launch in the next few weeks, will allow the restaurant to pay its ongoing overheads and importantly for Bond – support his 34-strong team of front of house staff and chefs. “I refuse point blank to lose a single member of my staff. I am responsible for them all and some of them have been with me longer than the restaurant has been open. They are my family,” he said.

Nottingham based café and roastery brand 200 Degrees, which now has 11 sites around the UK as well as five barista schools and an online coffee business, re-opened its city centre cafes for take-away recently, un-furloughing a limited number of its staff to kick start the business. But Rob Darby, co-owner and founder revealed further plans for expansion had been shelved following the pandemic.

“We re-opened with a range of measures to keep our customers and staff safe and we have found leaner ways of working but the foundations of our business are built on personal service and our relationships with our customers, which we will never want to let go of.

“Whilst we’ve seen massive growth in the last number of years, a few sites we were in agreement on with landlords have all now been mothballed. We are not looking to expand now, just to get through this, come out the other side, and reach a point where we are trading profitably again. Once we’ve found the platform of stability, then hopefully we’ll continue our expansion in the future.”

Nottingham has attracted many new and exciting restaurant and bar brands to the city over the past five years including The Alchemist, Cosy Club and Mowgli to name but a few, but as the onslaught of Covid-19 saw the city’s hospitality industry close overnight, it also paused investment in Nottingham’s bar, restaurant and café culture, as deals fell down and buildings remain unlet. BBC Masterchef 2018 winner Laurence Henry who pre-Covid-19 was looking to open his first restaurant in his home city, is one such example.  

“My plans have been temporarily halted but during lockdown I have been busy operating Quarantine Kitchen - a take-away and delivery service which is really a restaurant style experience straight to your home,” he said.  “The response has been amazing and it’s just been a really nice thing to do which has kept us all sane during lockdown. I think everyone is a bit tense with the lack of information and lack of clarity as nobody knows what is going on – and we’ve had casualties big and small already but long term I think we’ll be ok. Hospitality is going to be more important than ever – and I believe everyone will really want to make the most of that special time out with family and friends.”

As all our Nottingham hospitality businesses are working hard behind the scenes to re-open and ultimately survive the coronavirus pandemic, the new normal seems yet un-clear but as Rob Darby said, “I feel we’ve considered an awful lot and planned for a lot, but ultimately we just need to wait and see.”

The full webisode, broadcast live on Friday 12 June 2020 is available to view  https://youtu.be/R6nlg5_6IBM

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