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Road to Recovery: Hospitality Venues on How Nottingham BID Helped Them Through COVID

5 October 20 interview: LeftLion
photos: Curtis Powell

With the hospitality industry in the most precarious state it’s been in for a generation, we catch up with five of Nottingham’s most popular venues and organisations to find out they’re thoughts on the ever-changing Government policies, adapting to life post-lockdown and the important role the Nottingham Business Improvement District has played in supporting the sector...

Annie Spaziano - Annie’s Burger Shack

We have had to endure enormous changes to our circumstances due to lockdown. Loss of trade, lowering the amount of seating inside, staff numbers reduced to low levels, closing on weekdays and an overall reduction of our working hours. There have also been stock issues with getting ingredients, which at times has been complicated, as some of the ingredients, like our maple syrup, comes from America.  

Eat Out to Help Out was a double-edged sword for us. On one hand it helped with getting more people in at the beginning of the week – we had a huge surge in demand to book throughout the month, peaking on Bank Holiday Monday. We ended up having to turn thousands of people away. However, we still had to keep our staff levels low, as we couldn’t return additional staff from furlough too early without knowing what the demand would be after EOTHO. Our bookings team had great difficulty in trying to get to everyone. 

In the long run, changes to consumer preferences of going to city centres may impact businesses in town. We need to keep positive to meet these changes, but it is difficult to predict what we can or cannot do due to constantly adapting to the crisis. This could take years to repair. We are offering call-and-collect and deliveries to hold ourselves up, but we don’t particularly like doing that as we are a destination restaurant and usually cater to large groups of up to thirty people.

Getting Best Bar None accreditation let’s people know that we are a safe bar. The BID helped us out, and worked with other bars in the city by visiting us regularly and making sure we were kept up to date. The impact of that is that we are one of the safest bars in the city, and that networking has had a positive impact. The process was also easy to follow. 

We have had good support from Nottingham BID. They’ve promoted our past events, tied us in with other festivals and stopped by to talk to our staff. We were really thankful for the arrow stickers and helpful tips they gave us. They made us feel like we were part of the city as a collective and supported during this unprecedented time. 

Suraj Dhaliwal – The Maharaja’s Retreat

Having to close for three months due to lockdown has had a huge impact on us as a business. On top of that, trying to resume things with the ‘new normality’ has been difficult. The hospitality industry is not what it was, and there has been a huge drop in the number of people eating out. 

The Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme was helpful in bringing people to dine with us, and we noticed a big increase in the amount of new customers coming through our door, which created a lot of word-of-mouth attention. 

We worked really closely with Nottingham BID before lockdown, and they brought a lot to the city in terms of events and helping local businesses. Since lockdown, they’ve been helpful in terms of getting PPE and keeping the surrounding areas clean. 

It’s difficult to judge what the hospitality industry will be like moving forward. The industry relies a lot on income taken during the Christmas period, and if we don’t see that sort of rush this year I anticipate a lot of local businesses will be closed permanently by January. A lot of businesses simply won’t be able to afford the city centre rents in the current environment.

Rae Talbot – Ye Olde Salutation Inn

It’s very difficult to put into words the effect the past six months has had on our business and the mounting pressure to keep our heads above water. With the pub now working at half capacity, losing 25 hours of serving time per week and, of course, finding it difficult to hold live music and events, it is only thanks to our amazing and supportive customers that we are still here holding the fort. 

I’m incredibly worried for the future of the hospitality trade. With venues permanently closing all around Nottingham, and more and more hospitality staff becoming unemployed, the future is unclear. There simply aren’t enough venues to support the increasing number of unemployed people in the trade, especially now that they are having to cut opening hours and, as a result, staff’s hours and shifts. I hope that once we’ve all braved the storm, and things are safer, new venues will open to provide more jobs and help keep the industry alive. 

I agree with some of the Government’s policies, such as the wearing of face masks, although that really should have been the case from the start. Also, having table service only – both inside and outside – makes sense, as it keeps groups of people seated together in their ‘bubbles’. However, I don’t understand the new 10pm curfew. It doesn’t seem logical, and I don’t see the health benefits. For example, before the new rules, we would open from 10am-3am on a Saturday. During that time we’d get day drinkers, evening drinkers and night drinkers, and most of those people would never cross paths with one another. Now, with our new opening hours of 10am-10pm, all of the people who usually drink later in the evening are coming in earlier. That’s not even to mention the fact that every pub in Nottingham now has the same closing time, so at 10pm the streets are horrendously busy, busses are full and people are queuing for transport. I just think this will eventually put more pressure on the emergency services and, in turn, create more issues than it solves. 

Nottingham BID has been exceptional at helping us through these times with everything from event ideas to signage. Their help is invaluable to keeping Nottingham venues safe and in business. During these times there is not much help out there and, even if it's just advice, Nottingham BID are always there to help.

Andy Crawford – Pub People

Having built a strong business up over 25 years, turning over in excess of £20m and being responsible for over 500 employees, it is frightening to see how fragile the hospitality industry is at the moment. I always thought that the pub would be indestructible in my lifetime but COVID-19 has really tested those thoughts. The Government imposed a closure of our whole pub estate with six hours notice. We were having a management meeting in my office working out plans if it did happen, when someone burst in and said, “he’s done it!” It felt like being notified the country had been invaded.

While the past six months have been challenging, I still remain positive about the pub businesses we operate. They are quality pubs in communities or towns that generally target a quality customer base, operated by excellent people. I think long term, so long as the virus is combated with an effective impact, the hospitality industry will adapt like a pond that eventually calms after a large rock has been thrown into it.

I actually think that the drive towards supporting independent businesses will grow and brands will have to be extremely thoughtful in maintaining their position. The customer is much more likely to seek quality over price. We are positioned well to take advantage of that as we promote our pubs as independent outlets supporting local suppliers, especially microbrewers. We deal with over 100 different small brewers in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.

The Government seems to be in permanent crisis mode rather than intelligent strategy thinking. Last month it was Eat Out To Help Out, this month it is Don’t Go Out. It is difficult to believe that they could not predict closing all licensed premises at the same time would result in a crowd of people on the streets, all trying to get taxis or buses and standing around in the type of crowding the Government does not want.

We are a great supporter of the Nottingham BID. Having such an organised entity in the city providing direction, guidance and leadership for the different business sectors has enabled Nottingham to stay ahead of other cities in terms of how well the licensed businesses are managed. Tactically, the BID is excellent in providing solid print support, social media messaging and ambassadors giving moral support to operators. They are also excellent in bringing together other support bodies like the Police, Pub Watch and the Council so that any coordinated responses work very effectively. Other cities do not have that.

Joel Lydamore - Malt Cross

The pandemic has hit all hospitality venues hard with restrictions and closures over the summer. At Malt Cross, we are surrounded by the best and most hardworking team who are helping transform this unknown journey into a positive experience for our customers. As a former Victorian music hall with a rich history to preserve for our community, we have also been very lucky to secure £49K COVID support funding from the National Lottery’s Emergency Heritage Fund to help us weather the storm and facilitate everything from PPE, staffing support and health and safety measures to taking the steps needed to reintroduce our beloved heritage tours to the grade-II listed venue.

As a community-centric charity, nurturing our venue as a lynchpin for people in Nottingham to come together in celebration of good company, good food and supporting local talent is always a key motivator. The Malt Cross is now working to diversify and widen our gaze with plans to restart Street Pastors and expand our community offerings for local people. Plans range from developing our historical workshop spaces into a thriving social hub for discussing and realising social change to offering training opportunities for NEET individuals (Not in Employment, Education or Training) at the venue. 

Being recognised by the Best Bar None scheme is a real honour as we pride ourselves on delivering a diverse, caring and most importantly safe haven for people to indulge a night out experience in Nottingham whereby their wellbeing is the top priority. We firmly champion corporate social responsibility with our café bar spaces operating a strong responsible drinking ethos.

Nottingham BID has been a fantastic support and collaborator for many years, operating as a valued driving force for bringing together local businesses under the umbrella of community prioritisation. Their support has been great during the pandemic, particularly as we participated in their ingenious ‘Art Out To Help Out’ local equivalent to the government ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ campaign, which has warmly engaged customers who are on a mission to collect all forty hand-designed postcards from iconic café/bar venues around the city. As anyone who has visited the Malt Cross will know, we love stylised artwork, and in addition to facilitating the relationship between our music hall and the local arts scene, this has been an excellent opportunity to celebrate the creativity taking place at the heart of Nottingham.

Those of you that have seen the printed version of this article may have noticed a minor error on the page that made it hard to follow. We don’t make mistakes like that often but we did this time. Oops!

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