Defiant hospitality trade saddles up for the fight of its life – and appeals to customers to keep coming

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 25 September 2020 8:41

Defiant hospitality trade saddles up for the fight of its life – and appeals to customers to keep coming

Gloucestershire’s hospitality trade has a message – it is positive, it is open, it is in the fight of its life and if the words ‘we are all in it together’ ever meant anything at all – it needs to mean it now.

Years have seen some of the most talented people in their profession distilled into Gloucestershire, concentrating in the likes of Cheltenham, and liberally sprinkled across the county’s beautiful countryside.

While many reports run quotes focusing on the angst and anxiety of the pandemic pressures condensed further by this week’s Government announcements and leave it there, we can tell you the mood in Gloucestershire is defiant.

The camaraderie between independent business owners who has supported one another through lockdown and beyond is near palpable and now they line up for what they are determined will not be their ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’, but a mighty battle they are determined to win.

“We are not thinking about making money at the moment. We are just looking to cover costs and cover payroll,” said Steve Gardner Collins, who runs Hatton Court, part of The Hatton Collection of Hotels, and leads Visit Gloucestershire – the organisation established to promote the county as a visitor attraction.

“Yesterday’s measures have helped us, personally. We have 160 staff and it has taken the burden off us of redundancy after furlough. Which is brilliant. We are like a family. It has given us some breathing space.”

Those measures include pubs, clubs and restaurant having to close by 10pm, meaning for some restaurants to fit in the valuable ‘second sitting’ will require convincing its first customers of the evening to book for a 6pm table.

Pictured: Just some of the dining facilities at Hatton Court Hotel

“The message we want to get across is business is still trading. We will adapt to the new measures so people can still havea nice experience when they come out to our restaurants, hotels, pubs, etc. We can make this positive,” said Mr Gardner Collins, who stressed that with few guests it could be an opportunity to enjoy many venues in even more comfort.

But like others in the hospitality trade he stressed it was also about customers adapting too and appreciating that the hospitality trade was ready.

In Cheltenham this month a new group emerged calling itself TURF - more than 50 independent pubs, clubs restaurants and hotels which started as a support network in lockdown and has become a new trade body for the town.

Lindsey Holland, who runs the Cleeve Hill Hotel (pictured above), and is a member of the organisation, said many challenging issues remained for the sector, it was under no illusions, but there was an absolute determination to remain positive and stand together.

“VAT will be positive,” she said, when asked what jumped out from the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s package of measures announced yesterday (September 25), which extend the reduction in rate of value added tax from 20 per cent to five per cent from January 13 to March 31 next year.  

Mr Sunak said the VAT cut would help “support more than 150,000 businesses” through the winter period.

As for the new social distancing and other restrictions imposed earlier in the week?

“Every time the Government makes a new announcement someone cancels a booking,” she said, despite her hotel being in the near-isolated beauty on the top of Cleeve Hill, meeting all necessary measures and open for business.

TURF itself, in a tone more appropriate to where it was posted (Facebook), pulled no punches on the record.

“Today's government announcement is another kick in the teeth for Cheltenham's already beleaguered hospitality sector,” said TURF.

“However, throughout this pandemic TURF members have shown resilience and have adapted because our livelihoods and those who we employ need us to.  

“TURF members aren't funded by multinationals or venture capitalists.  

“So, we ask that you are not deterred by today’s new regulations but slightly change your dining and socialising habits: come out a bit earlier, ensure that you book a table, be flexible with available times and perhaps buy that extra drink.

“Cheltenham is our TURF.”

The business belonging to one of its leaders, former MasterChef winner Andrew Kojima, fell this week. In a year which saw him bring out a book (critically well received - No Sushi) – the pandemic has forced him to close his restaurant, Koj.  

“The recent rise in infections has prompted the government to impose further restrictions, which could last for at least six months. They are the final nail in the coffin for any hope and fight that I had left in me," he said.

“Sadly, I have concluded that now is the time for my head to rule my heart, so that I can make a fresh start, rebuild my career and make a living to support my wife and our young children through this turbulent time, rather than add to their worries. Without the backing of a wealthy and optimistic investor, I cannot take the risk of incurring further losses and greater debt.”

Begbies Traynor has been appointed as liquidators.

He may have shed his restaurant, but word is he will continue in the sector.

A further statement from TURF paid tribute – and underlined just how different the economic landscape was for the independent trader.

“Andrew Kojima (Koj to his mates) put his whole heart into his restaurant; there was no human resources department, food development team, finance department or PR firm working behind him. He, like so many other independent restaurants, had to do everything himself. Which he did with passion and determination,” said a statement from TURF.

“It is without any exaggeration that because of Koj we now have TURF. He originally set up a WhatsApp group for restaurant and bar owners and that group is now TURF Cheltenham. Koj continues to take an active role in TURF.”