How is London’s hospitality sector reacting to COVID-19?
Business Leader recently spoke to Harry Mead, the founder of London-based private members’ club The Court, to discuss how the COVID-19 outbreak has affected the capital’s hospitality sector.
How do you plan on keeping the business going during this outbreak?
We have to make hard yet smart decisions. We’ve been in constant discussion with our suppliers and partners about the disruptions – everyone’s in a tight spot, it’s about managing expectations, constantly communicating and supporting each other through this unique situation.
We also need to be sensible and protect our staff and members and the wider community as much as we can. As a private members club based in Soho, right in the heart of the capital, The Court can’t keep functioning in the traditional manner, we can however look to serve our community in different ways.
A number of my contemporaries are doing really creative stuff to help, one of the few lights during this dark period is the innovative approach people in the hospitality industry are taking to getting through this and how they are reconfiguring their operations to make something work in this new landscape both for their businesses and for those in need.
We’re staying in regular touch with our members, and negotiating as many club benefits that members can activate and use remotely to make this difficult time just a little easier. We’re still here to help people out, on phone and email.
We’re going to get through this – one of the great bonuses of the ‘when in doubt be nice’ approach to business is the strength of the relationship this builds with our staff and partners. We have almost 40 staff and every one of them has a job with us to keep and come back to, they’re valued as our family and we will look after them as such. We want to come back swinging with our full workforce in order to best serve the high demand from members when everyone returns. It will be important all round to have familiar faces back at The Court the other side of all this.
We were in planning mode for the venue a few weeks before Boris’ announcement. Along with a lot of my colleagues in the industry, we had scenario planned for a drop in attendance, partial closure and full closure, and so we already had battle plans in place. Through everything, our primary focus was making sure our staff would be alright and the business would be protected so everyone would have a job to come back to. I have talked to every member of staff individually about this unprecedented situation and reassured them of this.
I founded The Court a year and a half ago, in the middle of the Brexit debate, in a difficult period in the economy. It’s testament to the hard work and dedication of my brilliant team and great members that we’ve made it a great success. The momentum in the business before this was phenomenal – this is a black swan event in its truest sense – it couldn’t be planned for and it has just happened. It’s a defining time for a business regarding how to handle something like this and come out of it stronger.
What support does the hospitality sector need from the government?
The Government support so far in terms of business rates and support for the workers has been more than expected, and we’re looking into how to take full advantage of all of it as the details emerge. As an industry, we need to keep going so that when we’re out the other side of this there are places for people to go, as there will be high demand. We have a lot of freelance contractors, so we’d welcome more guidelines on the support out there for them. The hospitality industry put its hands up and said we need help and the Government answered in full force.
Although The Court is closed as a physical space, we’re taking this time as an opportunity to plan for when we’re back. We’re working with key members of the team to do as much as we can to ensure the operation is ticking over and we come back stronger than ever. People will be starved of community and experience so we’re lining up some fantastic events which we can activate on the other side of this challenge.
How has the London business community reacted to the outbreak?
By and large my experience has been one of a community binding together – everyone that I know has knuckled down and offered help to each other. It’s one of those rare times when you strip away everything and get to see that it’s the people that make the hospitality industry special.
We’ve even had members offering to help, there’s a huge degree of outreach and support. In a way, it reminds me a bit of the 2012 Olympics when there was an almost unmatched level of national spirit and everyone came together in service of a wider goal.
It’s going to be tough, there is no doubt of that, but what the industry and country are showing as a whole, is that they are prepared to face the challenge head-on and do what is necessary to survive and thrive when we come out the other end.