Hospitality Deserves Respect & Support For Showing Courage, Creativity & Resilience

At the time of writing this column, 40 percentof people in the UK have received a vaccine, and across Northern Ireland 746,254 people have had one dose, while 78,496 have received two. It’s really encouraging news. 

What caught my attention at the weekend, between excellent rugby matches, were the number of adverts on television that referred to when people can get back together again. 

Encouraging signs for the local business community, especially the hospitality sector. What people need more than anything from the Northern Ireland Executive at his stage is hope. 

In an ideal world, some clarity about when restaurants will be able to get opening again, would be a great boost. Businesses, especially food sector operations, need time to plan ahead. 

While I appreciate the Executive’s reluctance to commit to firm exit from lockdown dates that they may have to change if infection rates rise, there’s a strong case, I believe, for some indicative dates that there is some hope on the horizon. The fear is that there may not be any significant movement on hospitality before autumn…and perhaps not even until winter. 

I share the anxiety and concern expressed last week by Michael Deane of Deane’s restaurants and Bill Wolsey of the Merchant Group that many thousands of jobs will be lost and that restaurants and cafes may not reopen at all before the end of this year because of the debts being piled up over the past year. 

They’ve all invested heavily to create the safest possible environments for staff and customers….and at a time when there is little or no money coming in to help sustain the business. 

They fear that their counterparts in Britain may be back in business long before the Executive lifts the severe restrictions here. The industry must be treated with respect and provided with the data they are demanding from the Executive. I can fully understand why many feel the Executive doesn’t understand the challenges the hospitality businesses face. 

The most severe damage has clearly been inflicted on an industry which has made a most significant contribution to the local economy over very many years. Many fear that the industry may never fully recover but I believe that it will, it may be in a different format, but I have faith in our chefs and restaurateurs. 

As I’ve written before in this column, I am impressed by the determination being shown by the industry to survive the crisis. Our restaurants and cafes have come up with novel schemes to keep people here engaged and to generate some cash for the business…and the bank. They are a true inspiration. 

They’ve endeavoured to retain staff and to offer them hope and some income to help cover mortgages etc. Many have developed gourmet meals for delivery or collection. And some intend to keep these services going after the lockdown is lifted. I commend their tremendous enterprise and gritty determination. Our economy will need such courage and creativity when things eventually get back to normal and especially when tourism returns. 

It was Prince Charles who paid a warm tribute to hospitality last week, praising the industry’s resilience and enterprise that people take for granted. He said the industry was “essential to the enjoyment of life”. It was one of the country’s greatest success stories. How true. Hospitality, he added, is at the “heart of our communities”. 

He added that hospitality made an “immense contribution” to the economy, employing 3.2 million people directly and contributing over £39 billion in gross taxes. 

He continued: “The last 12 months may well have battered us all, but this time will pass, and when it does, we know exactly to whom we should turn to help us celebrate! The point is that we need you all – so I can only send my warmest possible greetings to each and every one of you.” 

Warm words, well said and greatly appreciated for an industry that we must never take for granted.