Goodbye lockdown, hello summer: how hospitality is preparing for end-of-year
With customers ready to make up for lost time during the end-of-year period, hospitality business owners are preparing for a busy season as they look to recover from lockdown challenges.
At a glance
Here’s a snapshot of the advice from our interviewees:
- Be prepared for when lockdown restrictions end. Stocking up on non-perishables, streamline booking systems and be familiar with your go-to source of updates to COVID-safe regulations.
- Adjust your offerings to adapt to lasting restrictions or new opportunities.
- Maintain customer connections and goodwill now to make people feel confident about returning for summer celebrations.
- Cultivate staff loyalty – hospitality staff are in demand.
Hospitality businesses across NSW, Victoria and the ACT are getting ready for the busy end-of-year (EOY) season after extended lockdowns. Here, three hospitality business owners share how they’re preparing, even in the face of ongoing uncertainty.
Prioritising preparation and managing expectations
Claire Statham, founder of Bondi’s Fishmongers, describes her business as one of the good luck stories of lockdown.
“It hasn’t been easy and when the pandemic first hit I definitely thought we might have to close,” she says. “But we already had a business model that allowed for takeaway and we’ve transitioned before, so we were ready to do it again for the latest lockdown. And we’ve been able to maintain cash flow and survive pretty well.”
The learnings Claire gained coming out of last year’s lockdown are useful for managing this year’s easing of restrictions.
“It’s really about being prepared. Bookings are now essential so we need to make sure our bookings system is streamlined and that we’re on top of the regulations around seating numbers and distancing.”
While the new rules have sometimes been confusing or seemed overly onerous, Claire thinks it’s worth staying up to date and sticking to them.
“They are there for a reason and will save you the hassle – and a fine – if your business is checked by the authorities,” she says. “The hardest part is managing people’s expectations. People come in and see empty tables and can’t understand why we can’t give them a seat. You have to be ready to handle that and stay polite while you’re doing it!”
When it comes to stock, Claire’s tip is to give your suppliers plenty of notice about what you’ll need. “All our food is fresh on the day but for our non-perishables we’ve stocked up because we know suppliers will be under pressure as hospitality re-opens.”
Businesses that have lost stock in snap lockdowns previously may find comfort in the NSW Government’s recent introduction of the SME Summer Holiday Stock Guarantee. Eligible businesses can apply for a grant of up to $20,000 to compensate for loss of perishable goods, or claim $10,000 for reduced capacity to sell non-perishable items if they’re impacted by a local lockdown. Check your state or territory government website to find out if you’re eligible for government support.
Creating goodwill and keeping connections
“We expect to go from zero to 1000 very quickly once lockdown ends completely,” says Leisa Wheatland, who runs Toorak’s Bush Inn Hotel with her family.
But in the meantime Leisa has put energy and resources into the things she can control while waiting for more certainty about opening dates, regulations around check-ins and the number of people allowed in venues.
Building goodwill and maintaining the connection with locals and staff has been critical.
“The thing about pubs,” says Leisa “is they are not just about food and drink. They are primarily about human interaction and the energy that comes from conversation.”
Having that taken away has been a blow for customers and staff alike so finding ways to keep connected – even if it’s with a wave and a hello from the kitchen window – has been a priority for Leisa.
While it makes little impact on revenue, opening up a takeaway window to sell their best-selling chicken parmas and steaks is valuable in other ways. “Sometimes I get teary when I open up for our takeaway service at how much our customers want us to succeed. And we want to be there for them,” Leisa says. “The chefs are used to preparing hundreds of meals and working together each day. So it’s good for the team’s morale to keep the kitchen open. We see it as part of our duty of care.”
New offerings and fresh-air fun
“As soon as lockdown restrictions began to ease in Sydney, we got inundated with bookings,” says Ebby Carson, founder of boho picnic specialists Little Bird Events. “The challenge for me is that I operate mostly on my own so planning and timing are key. I need to make sure I have the stock I need to run multiple bookings a day.”
Ebby’s anticipating that even once restrictions lift, some people may be hesitant about going back to indoor venues or celebrating in large groups, based on the trends she saw at the end of last year’s restrictions, so she’s preparing for a further surge in bookings into 2022.
Ebby used her down time to plan and prepare for re-opening by creating new packages to coincide with the end of restrictions and streamlining new COVID-safe processes.
“We are now offering seated picnics to bring more formal dining outdoors with custom-made high tables and chairs. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate a special occasion and not feel like you’re missing out on the extra touches an indoor venue provides.”
Speak with one of our small business lending specialists about how a Prospa Small Business Loan could help you make the most of end-of-year opportunities.
5 essential branding tips for small businesses
Effective branding can help your business shine. Here are five ways you can nail branding the first time round.
5 growth insights from small business podcasts
Podcasts designed specifically for small business owners are treasure troves of advice, tips and insights. Here are five of the top highlights.