Five top tips to make the hospitality ‘grand re-opening’ a success

James Shipp
COVID-19, Hospitality and Leisure
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Monday 17th May is a red-letter day for the entire hospitality sector; it is the day when, finally, restaurants, pubs and cafes can throw open their doors and welcome customers back inside. Whilst those businesses with usable outside space have been partially open for a few weeks now, for most 17th May marks the return to business after many bleak months of closure.

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It is a time for celebration, but it is also a period which is rich with pitfalls.  Just as the hospitality sector gets going again, it will be hit with  problems ranging from deferred VAT payments becoming due, bounce-back loans needing repayment, and a reported shortage of staff – not to mention a lingering feeling of fear and uncertainty amongst a significant portion of the population about leaving their homes after all this time.

Fortunately, there are few things that hospitality businesses can do to maximise their chances of an effective return.  Here are five top tips to help make that ‘Grand Re-opening’ a success.

1. Don’t expect things to revert immediately to how they were pre-Covid

Hospitality might be about to fully re-open, but the past year has had a profound effect on people’s behaviour, and it’s unlikely that they will be switching back to their pre-Covid normality anytime soon – if at all.  So the hospitality industry is going to have to adapt. 

That could mean the continuation of new business which has emerged during the pandemic, such as takeaway deliveries and dine-at-home collection menus, and it could also be a huge opportunity for new ventures such as street food vans and pop-ups.  The only certain thing is that life after Covid will never fully return to how it was pre-pandemic.

2. Put together a business plan for your re-opening

Treat the grand re-opening as if you were starting a new business.  You will need a marketing plan to tell your customers that you are trading again.  You will need a training plan to ensure your workforce is ready to return to work and pick up where they left off a year ago (and in many cases, hospitality businesses will need to recruit new staff when they re-open).  You will need a financial plan to cover the cost of restocking, any refurbishment which is necessary, marketing, an so on. 

Don’t assume that your business will operate exactly as it did pre-Covid from day one. Effectively you are opening a new business, so you need to plan properly or you will encounter all the pitfalls facing any start-up.

3. Ensure you are taking advantage of discretionary local support

The measures being taken by local authorities to help hospitality businesses reopen vary widely from area to area, so it’s important to check that you are taking full advantage of what is on offer.  Some councils are offering cash grants to help cover the cost of enhancing outside areas, others have specific grants for eat-in establishments, takeaways and even market stalls.

In many cases these have to be applied for, so you won’t receive them automatically.  Organisations such as the BID, the Chamber of Commerce and even local tourism bodies are all offering advice on what is available. 

4. Take advantage of national initiatives

As the furlough scheme starts to wind down, the temptation is to think that the end of lockdown means the end of the kind of national support schemes which have been lifelines for many hospitality businesses over the past 12 months.

In actual fact, there is still help available.  Unincorporated business owners can take advantage of the fourth and fifth tranches of the Self-Employed income Support Scheme (SEISS), which covers the periods February to April and May to July respectively.

Meanwhile, hospitality businesses will receive a 100% discount on their business rates until the end of June, and then a two-thirds discount right through until 31st March 2022.  The VAT rate on hospitality businesses will remain at its current 5% rate until the end of September, and will then move to an interim rate of 12.5%.  It won’t return to its full rate of 20% until April 2022.

If you plan to invest in refurbishing your business for the grand reopening, you may be eligible to take advantage of the new ‘Super Deduction’ tax relief introduced by the Chancellor in his March Budget.

Finally, don’t forget that hospitality and leisure businesses are entitled to a £18,000 Restart Grant to help them with the costs of re-opening.  If you haven’t yet received this, visit your local council’s website to apply.

5. Stay Covid safe

The 17th May opening mandates continued social distancing measures, but these look like they could be relaxed further in June.  While the temptation may be to remove any vestiges of distancing, mask-wearing and other Covid precautions as soon as possible to give the impression that normality has returned, you need to be aware that for many people, it is going to take some time for confidence to return after more than a year of lockdowns.

Even amongst those who have had both vaccine shots, many will want to know that it is safe to venture out to restaurants and pubs.  Visible safety measures – even when they are no longer mandated by law – will help to build this confidence, and reassure customers that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe.

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