The disruption and uncertainty caused by Covid lockdowns and restrictions affected every industry, but arguably none more so than hospitality. With the perfect storm of COVID-19 and Brexit hitting trade and supplies, unLTD spoke to business owners in the food and beverage industry to find out how, despite the challenges, they are back thriving once again

“Going from zero to one hundred, flip-flopping through the tier levels, rule of six, eat out to help out, outside only etc… the people who thrived through that are superstars.”

James O’Hara is a well-known figure in Sheffield, looking after iconic city venues such as Picture House Social, The Great Gatsby and being one of the co-founders of Tramlines. He’s therefore no stranger to the huge challenge of operating businesses in the hospitality trade in the past three years.

James said: “I think what recent years have taught us is that a love of hospitality is needed if you’re going to have a long-term career in it.

“It can be a sector that people get lost in for years without realising that it isn’t for them. But when faced with something as disruptive as the pandemic, for those people it was a useful experience to show that hospitality isn’t for them and that they’d rather do something else. So I think that as we return to normality, what we’re left with is really solid teams of committed individuals.”

Despite the challenges, James’ businesses have returned and are stronger than ever.

“The first quarter of 2022 was our strongest start to any year in the 12 years we’ve been operating hospitality businesses.

“This has continued through the year, and it seems that people are prioritising their leisure time above other things. I think the two years of disruption have left people with a knowledge that socialising is hugely valuable to them and the hospitality sector has seen a jump in the perception of how valuable it is to our towns and cities.”

James believes this trend is influencing plans for redevelopments and reshaping the traditional retail high street, which was already experiencing a decline before Brexit and COVID 19 impacted the economy.

“You only need to look at most city centre plans all over the country to see that the food and beverage sector has gone from being the problem child to one of the main factors in developing cities of the future. With traditional retail on the wane, it is experiences that will draw people together in our towns and cities and I for one am extremely excited to see what the next five to ten years hold for Sheffield and beyond.”

Echoing those thoughts is Joe Spriggs, accountancy and economics graduate and owner of Alder Bar which opened in Kelham Island in October 2021 just before the last surge of COVID 19  cases. Despite a dip in Christmas trade, the business is doing well and is opening a larger outside area in anticipation of the warmer summer months.

Joe said: “After the initial buzz around us opening in October, we did get hit by the uncertainty around COVID 19 at Christmas, but things recovered and we have exceeded expectations so far this year so we’re looking forward to the summer.

“Based on what we have seen so far, I think the increased cost of living is being offset by people wanting to make the most of their leisure time because they now have the freedom to do whatever they like that they haven’t always had in the past two years.

“Although disposable income is going down, the idea that people are using more of it on leisure activities gives businesses like ours a boost, particularly through the warmer months when we have more space to accommodate people inside and outside.

“We are also able to host events such as birthdays or engagement parties and bookings for these have remained steady throughout 2022 as people look to take advantage of the fact they can now host large gatherings which were not possible at times in the past couple of years.”

Although Alder Bar has done well despite the challenges since it opened, Joe has experienced supply issues with certain products. However, the business’s desire to use local produce has helped to reduce the impact.

“We have had problems with supplies which are shipped from outside the UK. We had a real issue with gas supplies around Christmas and our house lager was unavailable for a while because we couldn’t get hold of it, but I think overall we haven’t been too badly affected.

“I think we have probably fared better than some other businesses because wherever possible, we try to buy from Sheffield and surrounding areas so the supply chains are shorter. Most of our beers are from local breweries so fortunately, we have been able to keep the majority of our range available throughout this uncertain period.”

With a big summer ahead, Joe believes that short term, the hospitality sector will thrive, but towards the end of 2022 the future is less certain.

“I’m expecting strong summer trade with this being the first summer people are free to do whatever they want. In the medium term as we approach the end of the year, I think there will be a reduction in footfall, which we would expect anyway but it might be worse this year as people are forced to save.

“Long term, I expect things to settle down, but I think we may have to ride out a bit of a short-lived lull in the meantime.”