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The year that changed the world

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Three things we learned in 2020

For many of us, December will be the damp squib that we all desperately hoped could be avoided. The government showing no signs of offering additional support. Unable to get their heads around hospitality.

With the revised tier system representing another kick in the teeth. And with insulting one time payments offered to pubs who remain closed. In many ways, it’s a continuation of the poor form we’ve seen all year. Undermining the positive actions such as the furlough scheme and VAT reduction.

With M&A activity in the sector being announced as frequently as the next CVA, the industry is in the midst of radical change. Its very viability in an increasingly unstable world is being pushed to its limits.

Whilst we can all be positive about a vaccine helping us return to some sense of normality. There does seem to be a disparity emerging between the enthusiasm and celebration beaming from the government. And the reality that the scientific community continue to reinforce. Even with a vaccine, we’re not going to be out of this for a while.

It’s been so encouraging to see restaurants such as KOL and Noble Rot Soho open to rave reviews. Filling up their reservation diaries in record time. And an early evening stroll around Soho on Friday proved that we’ll do anything to support our favourite restaurants. Even if that means sitting outside in the rain as temperatures plummet.

So what can we take from a year that has genuinely changed the world? Here are three things that we’ve observed and learnt throughout the most challenging time of our lives.

Living with Less

Overconsumption in just about every area of our lives poses the biggest threat to the planet. Whether taking unnecessary flights to unnecessary meetings, grabbing plastic-covered convenience food because we were too busy to care, or rewarding ourselves with a shopping spree.

We’ve been forced to revisit all this. Forced to find comfort in communicating online. And enjoying the simple pleasure of seeking out better produce and products with more ethical credentials.

The challenge will come when we’re faced with the temptation of going back to our old ways. Balancing this with what we now know about how much of a positive impact we can have when we really put our minds to it.

What’s been clear is that brands who stand for something above and beyond the pursuit of profit have fared better in the face of adversity. Seeing success through the genuine connections they’ve made - and continue to foster - with their audience. And this shift away from unquestioning consumerism is only going to continue.

Resilient Business Models

It’s been really interesting listening to business leaders describe how they’ve found strength and security in their businesses. In his recent appearance on James O’Brien’s Full Disclosure podcast, Tom Kerridge spoke openly about the robustness of his businesses. Putting this down to the freehold accommodation interests he has in Marlow and that he’s not allowed his TV work to take his focus away from running his restaurants.

We caught up with Chestnut Inns founder Philip Turner last week and he echoed this sentiment. Having a property portfolio that underpins their operations is clearly something which operators outside of cities see as a real benefit to their businesses.

But in urban areas where leaseholds still dominate, operators have taken to delivery and retail in the pursuit of revenue. And it’s clear that this continued diversification is going to be key to future success. Not just temporary endeavours to plug a gap. In this sense, the importance of really knowing your audience, what drives them, and how and where to reach them cannot be overstated.

Community over Competition

Great things happen when we work together. And we’ve seen this in spades throughout the pandemic. Up and down the supply chain, restaurants and suppliers have been working together to bring products and experiences into peoples homes. At times when we were starved of opportunities to support our favourite businesses.

We’ve seen education really become part of a brand’s marketing efforts. With everyone from the Rare Tea Company to Berry Brothers hosting virtual tastings and experiences to drive engagement. Building brand loyalty, and fostering a sense of community through learning.

We now look to a well-earned rest over Christmas and onwards to 2021. We see transparency, openness, honesty and genuine engagement as the driving factors for success.

Brands are going to need to work harder than ever to stand out from the crowd. To be heard over the ever-increasing noise online.

There may be a retraction in the size of the hospitality industry in the short and medium terms. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easier to reach and connect with your audience.