For almost 15 years, I’ve worked in the JQ and have been fortunate enough to witness the regeneration of Birmingham as a whole. Big Cat has worked on launch campaigns for some of the city’s favourite bars and restaurants, such as San Carlo, Fumo, Be At One, The Alchemist, The Canal House, and most recently Dishoom. For all you pub fanatics, we also work with local giant, Mitchells & Butlers, on a number of their brands too.
To give you a whistle-stop background tour (and throwback to the nineties!), I started off in the Birmingham nightclub industry as a promoter. Promoting opened so many doors for me and sparked my passion for the hospitality industry, leading to my first business in the Arcadian Centre in 2000.
This business put Poppyred on the map and by the early noughties, Poppyred had become one of the most popular drinking and dining spots in Birmingham. I then went on to be part of the team which transformed the historic Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath into one of the city’s most prestigious live music destinations.
A history in hospitality, indeed!
Flash Forward to Present Day (and no, it’s not all bad!)
Like many sectors, hospitality has taken a beating from Covid19. Excuse the continued boxing metaphor but, many businesses are still on the ropes.
At the time of writing, we are a few weeks into the reopening of pubs and restaurants after months of enforced closure. Yet despite reopening, revenues are down across the board.
This drop is the result of multiple factors, including: reduced capacity due to social distancing rules, people’s cautiousness, customers visiting as couples or in smaller groups and, of course, not quaffing with the same carefree, pre-lockdown gusto.
BUT! Before you start to get depressed by all this doom and gloom, let me reassure you that I am optimistic for the long term health of the sector. We are witnessing a wealth of innovation, resilience and good old fashioned British humour in the face of these challenges.
This spirit of staying positive, looking for solutions, and not accepting defeat is exemplified and promoted in many restauranteurs, publicans and bar operators across Birmingham.
Indeed, why wouldn’t you be optimistic?!
Productive Planning Prepares for Positive Performance
Let’s be honest, not all operators will have the scale and resources of Mitchells & Butlers to plan for numerous scenarios.
But there is hope! Smaller entrepreneurs have the advantage of agility and the ability to try out new methods of promoting directly to local customers for close to zero cost.
You may be thinking that shutting your restaurant’s doors for three months means curtains. But by taking the time and the opportunity to build your brand, grow online communities, and improve the efficiency of your operations, you may begin to generate a variety of new revenue streams.
Ding Dong Delivery!
A fascinating new development in Birmingham has been the increase or enhancement of operators’ delivery options.
For example, during the height of lockdown, cafés specialised in cake and pastry deliveries. To maximise profitability and efficiency, baked goods were all pre-ordered and available for the weekend uptake. Cafés also supplemented their bakeries with delights from other artisans.
In addition, the Early Bird Café supplemented their own bakery with delights from other artisans like JQ’s own, Salcooks.
Having the foresight to maintain this brand awareness, build their technology platform and continue to grow their customer base in the face of severely limited seating capacity and traditional income streams, is a clear demonstration of how one can adapt to their environment.
Another example of innovation is the explosion of meal kits from restauranteurs across the city, who have been distributing these vacuum-packed hauls of partially-cooked deliciousness the length and breadth of the city.
Stirchley’s Eat Vietnam, Texas-inspired BBQ Low and Slow, and the strangely named (if you know you know) Tiger Bites Pig have been distributing these vacuum-packed hauls of partially-cooked deliciousness the length and breadth of the city.
Indeed, one of these restauranteurs recently told me that a post-lockdown Saturday night was fully booked (using the new social distancing rules) and that sales were only 25% down week-on-week.
WAY better than expected!
If I had a Crystal Ball…
Deliveries and mail-order are a good start, but more innovation and adaptation is required across the sector to fill these inevitable revenue gaps.
The best operators are looking at their entire operation: shrinking menus to focus on the most popular and high-margin dishes or drinks, placing bars and pizza ovens in outside spaces to speed up service (and sales) and figuring out ways to reduce queues.
If indeed I had a crystal ball, I would say diversification and collaboration will be part of the way forward.
For example, we’ve collaborate with our beloved 1000Trades, who in turn collaborate with different chefs, support initiatives like Slow Food, works with event organisers, sells real ale on the ground floor and cocktails at the top.
My conclusion: ‘Hybdrid Hospitality’ is the future of the sector in this post-Covid, new normality.
Written by Anthony Tattum, Founder & CEO.