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Hospitality and the pandemic: 20 months on

Belu recently partnered with CODE Hospitality and the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) on an inaugural ‘purpose in hospitality’ survey. After more than a year of flux and uncertainty, we wanted to speak to friends and colleagues running businesses to understand how they felt about the future of the industry and the role ‘purpose’ played in getting them through challenging times. Our survey collaboration is the start of a far-reaching conversation with you, and we want to celebrate (hopefully) a new chapter for the hospitality community. Check out the results from the survey here. At the same time, we reached out to some of the brilliant supporters of Belu in the industry to learn more about their personal experiences. Here are some of the responses we got:

What have the last 20 months been like for you?

Hamish Stoddart, Managing Director, Peach Pubs: A rollercoaster — scary falls, fantastic highs and mind-blogging turns! Tim Batchelor, Group Bar Manager, The PIG hotels: It’s been tough to say the least. The past year has been both unexpected and challenging but has also shown us that we are able to adapt, overcome and come out stronger. During the lockdowns, it gave us all an opportunity to step back and work on our mental health and home life. Since being back to work as normal, I have seen a real change in everyone’s work/life balance. Sandy Jarvis, Managing Director, The Culpeper Family Hospitality Group: Obviously very challenging. But alongside that, from March 2020 we were determined to use the opportunity of being closed to stop and assess where we are as a company. In lots of aspects, we wanted to focus lots of energy on becoming the company we always wanted to be. It was these positive moments that have made all the hard times worth it.  

If you had one tip (on sustainability, purpose or people) to share with fellow hospitality friends, what would it be?

Lawrence Gomez, Executive Chef/Director, Papa L’s Kitchen: Being able to reduce waste and learning how to use leftover products, turning them into a dish or using them for staff food. Sandy, The Culpeper: Involve your people in the sustainable drive. It needs to be part of all aspects of your business, and you’ll only achieve that with their help, support and them pushing you. Stefan Allesch-Taylor, Owner of Small Batch Group and Baker & Spice: We are all facing a serious issue with staffing and retention. There isn’t going to be a short-term fix. Think about how to share the upside with everyone in the team you have –—not everyone wants to be incentivised with shares, or promises of tomorrow that hold risk, or an esoteric reward today — some just want to have mechanisms put into place that recognise the hard work they are doing and the extra mile they are going. Hamish, Peach Pubs: Learn from experts in the game. Join the SRA, join Net Zero Now and consult with good.business — they’ve taught us how to really make a difference.  

Did the pandemic drive innovation or change your role in the local communities you serve? If so, can you share an example?

Hamish, Peach Pubs: Once we knew the team were safe, we set up a not-for-profit called ‘Your Hub’. This not only helped the community with supplies, but also got the team out and about. During lockdown 2, the team invented ways to support local charities with coffee mornings, takeaways and donations. Find out what we got up to here. Tim, The Pig Hotels: I think it made us take a hard look at what we were doing, and gave us time to reassess how we could do things both differently and better! We embraced digital during this period and took our printed menus online with QR codes, whilst the Kitchen and Gardeners took time to strip back and re-evaluate what we’re dishing up, so we can better support our love of all things local.  

How has sustainability and the conversation about Net Zero impacted the long-term strategy or operating model?

Tim, The Pig Hotels: We were always very sustainability focused, with the kitchen garden and local sourcing at our heart, both in the bar and restaurant. Long term, we are looking at new initiatives to reduce waste. Having a multi-site business allows us to test it at one site before rolling out fully. Hamish, Peach Pubs: At Peach, we have a strategy on a page, designed with 45 Peachy people — this has been in place for 3 years. The only words we didn’t mention on the day were The Bigger Peach. Since then, 6 of us have crystallised what we mean by our sustainability plan, and we became determined to make ourselves the best on the planet. Sandy, The Culpeper: Sustainability and environmental awareness has always been a part of who we are, and part of our decision-making process. But it’s maybe got a larger voice than it used to, and we’re dedicating more time to making the progress we want to make.  

What does ‘community’ mean for a local chain, especially as we come out of the eye of the pandemic storm?

Stefan, Small Batch Group: It’s a very good question, and different people will have very divergent views on this. For us, it starts with our own people. Building a healthy culture when people are under pressure, or when forecasts can surprise you (not what they are for!) isn’t conducive to creating a stable and progressive environment. Firefighting without panicking, winning an argument without making an enemy and measuring a genuine problem from weariness are all things we must focus on beyond the ‘norm’. How we deal with these things defines the health of our own community. Beyond our own people, our broader community relates to positive and demonstrable community impact. Beyond our supply chain and immediate customers, we ensure that our engagement is not in any way self-serving. In Brighton, for example, we are working on a pioneering new program with a respected local charity to help rough sleepers and the homeless into accommodation. As a nation, we are the 6th largest economy on the planet, with 65m people on a land mass smaller than Florida. No one should be sleeping on the streets.  

Favourite place to eat and drink, now that we can do it freely?

Sandy, The Culpeper: So many places I could name — we’re really spoilt in London. Sitting at the bar at Smoking Goat on a Saturday afternoon is up there. Lawrence, Papa L’s Kitchen: My favourite place, currently, is anywhere that I am invited to eat.  

Your number-one dinner guest (past or present)?

Stefan, Small Batch Group: Well, I should say Mandela, Einstein, Oppenheimer or Churchill, perhaps? But right now I’d say Peter Kay — because we could all do with laughing.  

Favourite drink/cocktail? And where would you be sipping it?

Tim, The Pig Hotels: Sherry in the sun in Spain with my toes in the sand. Hamish, Peach Pubs: It would have to be my version of a Campari spritz — basically, without the spritz. Hamish’s Campari Spritz (without the spritz)
    • 1/6 of a grapefruit squeezed with 6 cubes of ice
    • 50 ml Campari
    • 175 ml white wine (preferably After The Clouds, our Peach favourite)
    • Top with soda

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