We now come to our 23rd week of the year in total in enforced closure due to Coronavirus, going straight into tier 3 after the national lockdown in November. My previous blog during the first lockdown touched on the frustrations of these unprecedented times, I really didn’t think I would be back here writing to the same narrative in December when we are in tier 3.
When July 4th came around we started the task of re-opening the business in a way that blended our usual warm welcome with the COVID secure measures we had put in place to ensure guests safety. There were some little changes and alterations along the way but overall all of the measures that we put in place were a step ahead of any government changes. Table service, our own version of track and trace via a QR code designed in house, close proximity staff wearing masks. The only significant changes was the baffling curfew which made us close the doors an hour early, confusingly making guests up and leave at the same time, but who are we to question the logic!
Fast forward to November with another lockdown upon us we found ourselves right back at square one. Trying to balance the running of stock down without depleting our menus, ordering one a knife edge to minimise lost stock and waste. The day after brought the duty managers into the office to begin the month-long ring around guests who had booked their festive meals, the cancelation of scaled down Xmas Entertainment evenings, the removal of people’s overnight stays as closure continues to extend under tier 3 restrictions.
Christmas is the peak of any hospitality venue, industry leaders will mention the revenue and footfall but for a family run business like us there is more to the Christmas period. As the Christmas decorations go up (really glad we took the time to do that this year, they look lovely I assure you) it begins a month that brings great intensity for staff but also an atmosphere with great warmth that makes you glide through the long hours. Pre-Xmas lunches with friends, staff gatherings and present swapping, our long run of Christmas entertainment evenings hosted by Marc Bolton which bring laughter and live music to our Adelaide Suite, peaking with the best days of the year in Christmas Day and Boxing Day. All of these events are laced with seasonal cheer, celebration and Christmas spirit, they are truly enjoyable to work. The cancelation of Christmas Day was the hardest task, guests that we have hosted for years with a mix of new bookings were deeply disappointed with their plans being curtailed on a couple of weeks notice due to us remaining in tier 3.
We now see an obvious spike in COVID cases we fully understand why restrictions have been tightened and why are currently in tier 3. We have been nothing but supportive of the majority of measures implemented, we did earlier poke fun at the curfew as it had its obvious flaws, but we have strictly adopted procedures to ensure that customers and staff are kept as safe as possible and despite understanding the reasons for and backing any lockdowns we have felt a disappointed at the way hospitality has become the punchbag for the government over the pandemic. Some things make little sense to us but venting our displeasure at us being closed whilst certain sectors remain opened under different measures really isn’t our style.
With hospitality venues looking increasingly unlikely to open in the coming weeks there will be plenty of establishments that are pushed even further to the brink. With grants barely covering the cost of retaining staff under new furlough rules, let long the ongoing costs and running overheads even when closed many places continue to hemorrhage money. The first lockdown was financially crippling and the second will be the final nail in the coffin for many restauranteurs. All of this brings out a very emotive view on hospitality restrictions, not just because of our family businesses situation but the feeling of the places we visit frequently. Theres the Indian restaurant I visit with my wife and friends, where my first name is never forgotten and they could probably guess my order given three attempts, there’s the hidden gems in far away places we visit once a year that we never forget. There are the places that hold special memories, places of comfort for guests, restaurants that generations of families have used. We have customers that have been using the Appleby for years, they began with a first date, held their wedding here and now bring their children here. Places like this will soon be closing their doors forever without support. The family restaurants that have been run for years by mothers and fathers and then their sons and daughters deserved to come to a better end than this, an end on their own terms that reflects the efforts they have poured into their projects.
I think about the Appleby now. I think back to my Nan and Grandad starting up in the sector, selling their house at the age of 40 to take the gamble on a hotel on the seafront in Blackpool which needed an awful lot of work at the time. I recall the tales they tell of a full season at Blackpool working every hour under the sun to get the business up and running. I think of the next gamble they took selling up and moving back to the midlands investing in two village pubs, the Unicorn at Orton-on-the-Hill and the Appleby Inn (now Hotel) at Appleby Parva which their sons run. I remember my family building the 21 bedroom hotel on the side of the little village pub they had big ideas for, pouring every penny, even the ones from he back fo the sofa, back into the business, and then my father single handedly working the open and close shifts (6am until 2am) until it was established enough to expand the key staff to assist. I think back to being in my early teens heaving crates of bottles up stairs to re-stock the bottles fridges, the embers of the evening before’s service still smouldering as we re-set for another night. I think back to the memories of working with my dad learning my trade, being taught the art of cooking to order continuously, working busy bars, customer service, cleaning the toilets, and the key to any role – an honest days graft. I think about the time my dad handed the day to day running of the business to me and the sense of pride I had that he trusted me to follow my grandparents and him in continuing this journey. I think of the customers that have grown to become friends and the customers who we have sadly lost over the years. I am even missing a complaint at the minute! I think of the staff who have shown unwavering support for us during all of this, raring to get back to work, back to working as team, entwined like a family in a true family business. Each day that passes under closure these thoughts grow a little louder, and a little more emotional. I am deeply looking forward to supporting my favourite venues locally, the places that have invested their all and have a set of circumstances like I have listed above that makes their venue more than just a business. Hospitality is more than just a job, its a way of life for people who have grown up within the trade and the venues are much more than a place that serves food and drink. They are integral to the community. A place for people to interact, safe places that families celebrate tougher, places where people mourn together, places where people marry. When the current restrictions start to ease we hope to see people continue to frequent bars and restaurants to start making more memories, to get their release, to gain comfort, even to have a quiet moment alone. When you do go back bear in mind that the venues are still working though a rocky period and are doing their best to ensure safety of customers and still keep the doors open. Most of all remember that we love hosting you guys just as much as you love visiting and that we can’t wait to have you back.
"Fantastic, absolutely fantastic. We booked a table for 22 which was reserved and laid out lovely. The food was all ordered separately by different family members but all arrived together and was served and cooked as requested without any problems. We will definitely be going back, highly recommended. Many thanks Appleby Inn."
"We stayed here on our way home from Sunderland to the South West so about half way. Off junction 11 M42 about a mile from the junction and very easy to find. The room we had was very big and was also very clean. All rooms have ensuite showers. The room rate comes with full english breakfast which was excellent"
"Always fresh food and super friendly service! Been coming here for 20 years and I've never had a bad experience."
"An absolutely gorgeous Sunday roast today! Quick, efficient, friendly service from the staff, too. Very well-priced as portions were plentiful. Will happily return and definitely recommend!"