Today marks exactly 12 months since the UK was first formally locked down by its government due to the coronavirus pandemic, even though in the weeks prior to 23 March 2020 the situation was escalating and we probably should have taken these measures sooner.
But we are where we are, and having this date come around again can serve as a milestone for reflection on what’s happened to this industry over the last year.
With punters allowed in and out of hospitality sites more frequently than the hokey cokey, it’s been a period of stop and start. The initial absolute terror of the disease waned into more of a grudging acceptance and a determination that these massive challenges will not break us.
Distributors and suppliers worked hard to support end users to shut down or restart during each wave of the virus and the resulting restrictions, especially when many had furloughed staff. Other industry firms working with public sector sites remained as busy as ever, if not more so, to ensure that the healthcare sector remained fed at all times.
And it was heartening to see how many firms have given of time and products so freely this year to help not only the NHS but local communities struggling with job losses, with volunteer work and donations.
To keep the lights on for themselves though has been a massive challenge. With operator investment decisions postponed or shelved, those who wanted to survive had to pivot and adapt quickly. Dealers have branched out into new sectors, reorganised their offerings – charging for consultative work and the like, plus offered now essential PPE and sanitation products.
Likewise suppliers leaned into this safety demand, with product innovation by the bucketload, whether it is equipment specifically aimed at sanitising professional kitchens, or adjusting existing appliance designs to minimise disease transmission risk in these health and safety-heightened times, with measures such as touchless controls and hygienic materials.
While sadly there have been many jobs lost, it doesn’t look to be as bad as once feared, and I am seeing many companies actively recruiting again in the run-up to the hopefully final reopening of UK hospitality. But many of those who have found themselves redundant have taken the opportunity to start their own businesses; so for those entities we have sadly lost over the last 12 months, there is at least a renewal process going on with other dealerships taking their place.
The way we interact with each other has completely transformed this year too, with virtual meetings becoming the new norm, and many suppliers opening onsite demonstration areas or studios to broadcast training remotely. We do all want to get back to face to face conversations, once it’s safe, but for now, it’s at least a stop-gap.
So if this year has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared for anything. Those who have been fleet of foot and immediately adapted to a rapidly changing environment are those who’ve survived. Now all we can do is hope that the next 12 months is more about thriving, not just surviving. Happy Lockdown-iversary!