The British Beer and Pub Association surveyed its members in May and found that 19,000 of 47,000 pubs believe they will go bankrupt without further Government help. With social distancing at 2m, it is expected to allow around 25% capacity, which means even when allowed to open, they believe it will be impossible to survive financially. Even those with gardens and outdoor space will struggle, especially once heading into autumn and winter.
Marita, owner of The Woolpack, on Tuddenham Road in Ipswich, is ready to face the challenge head-on and is feeling optimistic about the future. “I was raised to be a fighter which is probably how I have ended up running my own business. The first couple of years here were tough, but I built the business up and will do it again. I have an incredible team and I know that we can do it”.
By early March, the business was already slowing and looking at what was happening in other countries, closure seemed inevitable so Marita took action. The Woolpack is well known for its home-cooked food offer, so to start compensating for the drop of footfall in the pub, Marita started a home delivery service. “There was no question that we wanted to support our community and the people who had always supported us. Our elderly customers were already shielding and by providing a delivery service we could help them, and keep the business going”. It was a steep learning curve from which map app was best at finding houses, to how to take and process orders. Supplies were hard to source with pasta and takeaway containers proving a particular challenge.
Marita strongly believes that a pub is often the heart of the community, providing social interaction and support for many of their customers. She felt that it was important not only for her own well-being and mental health, but that of her customers, to keep open and maintain that community hub in some way.
“It was really stressful at times, and I understand why many pubs just closed their doors, but I knew it was the right thing to keep going and diversifying was the way to do that. I didn’t even contemplate closing. We started with home delivery to shielding customers and then moved to a collection-take away service as well. We increased our takeaway offer by adding beer and cocktail sets. Once people were allowed to meet up in the park, we have started selling ice creams, cold drinks and picnic bags”, tells Marita.
Diversifying means that 95% of the stock has been sold, all suppliers have been paid in full and only 50% of staff had to be furloughed. Despite being very busy, commercially it has been challenging with costs often not being covered, but the contribution to the community and economy has made the challenges worthwhile. The Woolpack, like many pubs, did not qualify for the Small Business Grant or the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant, which means maintaining cash flow has been vital.
“I have been determined to maintain our quality and business ethos throughout. Using recycled and compostable takeaway containers and paying all our suppliers are things I am really proud of. My aims have been to keep my team safe, physically and mentally, support the community and stay true to our ethos. We have achieved that”, says Marita.
The Woolpack has kept active in their community not only by providing takeaway and delivered food but also by continuing to run their charity quiz nights, supporting the local hospital. “We have all needed interaction and some fun during these times, and the team have been incredible adapting, learning new skills and changing how they work. Moving our normal quiz night to online was another way to reach out and stay in contact with our customers”.
With re-opening just a few weeks off, the hospitality sector is apprehensive about how customers and staff will respond, and how it will work. However The Woolpack is confident that their customers will be back to support them, and that their team feel confident with returning to an “open” pub largely due to the communication, team ethics and activity that has been taking place over the past three months.
Marita, despite the challenges of the last three months, is still full of energy and optimism. They have already taken steps to get approval to expand their outdoor seating area. She says, “We will be closing just before re-opening to a new system to allow us to get ready and welcome back other team members. We have permission to use the car park for tables, which is increasing our outdoor space, and we have re-arranged furniture inside to keep everyone safe. The challenge will now be balancing costs with revenue with such limited capacity. We’ll find a way to do it”.
Best wishes to Marita and her team who since contributing to this feature re-opened on 4th July 2020.