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City restaurant boss urges people to support independents as hospitality industry faces the ‘worst time yet’

10 months ago

City restaurant boss urges people to support independents as hospitality industry faces the ‘worst time yet’

As winter looms and the hospitality industry faces another difficult time, one Liverpool restaurant owner has warned ‘the worst is yet to come’.

Iain Hoskins, who owns three bars and restaurants in the city centre, says: “After riding out Brexit and the pandemic, we are facing our toughest challenge so far.

“I know of a few Castle Street businesses who are teetering on the brink, and across the city it’s going to be a very difficult next six months when only the strong will survive.”

While conscious that everyone is struggling right now, ‘myself included’, Iain has urged everyone in Liverpool to consider the choices they make if they do go out.

Liverpool Hospitality
Iain Hoskins

“Support your independents, all those places you love which give Liverpool their identity.

“It’s easier for large chains to ride the storm. It’s the smaller businesses which will go, and they are the ones who keep the money here, by paying the staff who work for them, or the fruit and veg man who supplies them, and who keep the city thriving.

“It’s crucial to Liverpool’s economy that we all do well.”

Iain is speaking after the recent closure of live music venue Jimmy’s in Bold Street, and he says: “That’s after coming out of a decent summer.

“I think some places will just cut their losses now, because it’s the worst it has ever been.”

Iain, who owns Nova Scotia on Mann Island, Tempest on Tithebarn and Ma Boyle’s Alehouse and Eatery in Tower Gardens – which has been nominated as Best Bar in this year’s Merseyside in Business Awards – has got years of experience in the industry.

Not surprisingly he says the cost of living crisis is the biggest factor affecting hospitality right now and causing such a massive struggle.

“It started to bite this time last year – and we noticed it immediately, and harshly.

“Sales started falling off a cliff, not least of those of venues in the business district,” he says. “People are still part-working from home and, when they do come in, as things get tight, it’s the incidental spending that people remove first of all, looking at how much you’re spending on coffees every week.  When you’re managing your budget, you’ll look at popping into Ma Boyle’s for lunch a couple of times a week and think, that’s going to have to be for a special occasion.  

“After- work drinks go from every Friday to maybe once a month, and so on.”

Liverpool Hospitality
Ma Boyle’s

Iain goes on: “People might come in on a Friday and Saturday evening and see all the queues outside bars, clubs and restaurants, but you have to look how all these are doing in the week and in the daytime; businesses can’t survive on just a few busy hours a week.”

Rising energy bills, higher mortgages and rent increases have seen everybody re-examine their spending, but they are not the only things affecting the hospitality industry in the city.

“The strikes going on are having a huge impact,” adds Iain. “The train strikes affect the hospitality industry most acutely because they are usually on a Saturday when the tourists and day trippers are coming in.

“Even when the teachers and doctors go on strike, parents have to change plans because, for instance, children can’t go into school and things have to be rearranged, and so you have fewer people coming into the city again.

“If things aren’t going well domestically, we might look at tourism and, while that’s coming back after Covid – and Eurovision was a big help – looking at ‘Broken Britain’, and transport issues, etc., doesn’t really make us the most attractive place to come. It all plays its part.

“Before Covid people had operating capital but after a few years of tough times, they don’t have that to fall back on now.

“If you look ahead, the picture doesn’t look rosy over the next six months, 12 months, or even a few years.”

Chef patrol of the fine dining Art School Restaurant Paul Askew agrees the reason for the ongoing challenges for hospitality ‘are the sum of many parts’.

The Art School - Paul Askew
Paul Askew

Paul says: “Since reopening after the pandemic – after an initial boom as people wanted to get back to a normal lifestyle – the supporting lower VAT business rates were put back to original levels at the same time as rising energy costs and the PAYE living wage, and rapid inflation on produce, meat, fish dairy, oil etc. This, mixed with staff shortages, was a recipe for pain as operators can’t just put the menu price up for fear of alienating people during the cost of living crisis.

“While people are still coming out to dine, they are doing so in a more frugal way and less often which puts a further squeeze on as businesses struggle to break even, and no real margins exist on anything anymore other than beverages. This leads to de-skilling to continue as businesses seek to employ fewer people at a lower rate and move to more convenience food for survival, but a business like mine cannot and will not do that as it is against every principal I stand for.

“A recalibration of VAT on food and support with energy costs and PAYE is the only way to help assuming inflation gets under control and consumer confidence builds back.”

Liverpool Hospitality

Iain says Covid taught people how crucial the hospitality industry was to the city, in terms of the money it ploughed back through business rates, and the identity it offers to the city, especially with so many unique independents.

That’s why he has urged people, if they are out and coming into the city to support those independents who continue to boost the local economy.

“But it’s not just about spending money. You can make recommendations,” he stresses. “If you have had a great experience, leave a comment or review on Google or Tripadvisor and you can help without having to part with money.  It costs nothing but in these days of social media, it makes a huge different to us.

“There has never been a more important time to help smaller businesses. Don’t just walk past and expect them to be there forever, because unless you use them and support them, they won’t be.”

Find out the latest news in Liverpool here.

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