Covid cafe, hospitality

Hospitality operators “teetering on the brink” – Strongman

Harvest Fine Foods Managing Director Richard Strongman has raised concerns for the future of hospitality in an interview for BBC News.

Strongman pointed out the desperate state of businesses in the sector as tighter coronavirus restrictions gradually put more and more pressure on bars, restaurants and cafes – and the knock-on effect felt by wholesalers.

His fears are that with the prospect of even harsher restrictions on the way as the winter approaches, businesses that managed to stave off the dangers of closures and widespread redundancies may not be able to withstand a second halt to business.

“Further lockdowns are going to decimate the industry,” said Strongman. “I think a number of the hospitality operators, in spite of all the government aid they’ve had, are teetering on the brink. If you push them into another shutdown, I think you’ll see a lot of business failures. It isn’t going to happen until Q1 of 2021, but it will happen.

“We’ve had to make some redundancies unfortunately and the uncertainty around the opening and closing of hospitality means as soon as we laid people off, we had to re-hire again. We started the years on 155 employees, at a low point we were below 100 with some on furlough some made redundant. We are back to about 140 employees because the August trade has picked up. It’s taken us quite a lot of time to gear up to being able to supply the service level our customers are used to receiving.”

One of the key issues facing the sector is the lack of a strong December, with Christmas parties, meals and meet-ups looking to be off the calendar in 2020.

And with an ever-changing picture across the UK, Strongman says the balance sheet of wholesalers like his – as well as the customers they serve – are baring the brunt of it.

“Our busiest month is August and our second busiest month is December,” Strongman continued. “And it doesn’t look as though Christmas parties are going to happen this year. I think a lot of operators are scratching their heads and thinking how we’re going to make this work.

“It feels to me as though not only are the goalposts moving, but the playing field is moving too almost on a daily basis – and it’s really hard to plan ahead.”

Foodservice Harvest Fine Foods hospitality Richard Strongman wholesale