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Insight into the hospitality industry: a Q&A with three industry insiders

The last few years have really thrown up many challenges to the hospitality industry, what

with ongoing staff shortages, price increases and repeated lockdowns to cope with during the pandemic and now a looming recession. But there have also been some exciting opportunities for the industry.

To get a snapshot of the current state of the hospitality sector, we spoke to three key people in the industry:

  • Shezan Aslam, Director at Black and White Hospitality Management

  • Steve Grocutt, Founder at The Cornish Bakery

  • Ricky Towers, Group Restaurant Director at British Garden Centres

Q: Name one top challenge and one top opportunity the hospitality industry faces today.

Shezan Aslam - It’s hard to name just one as we are facing several challenges at present. Rising utility costs that no-one ever envisaged, a potential recession, rising costs of all consumable items and a hospitality staffing crisis are just some of the issues we’re facing – and that’s on top of the normal day-to-day challenges faced by those in the sector.

Steve Grocutt - Cornish Bakery has not had any significant staffing issues but if pressed this would be the main challenge. The opportunity would be to put the hospitality back in to hospitality and not just treat it as a number

Ricky Towers - The number one challenge at the moment is the rising costs. Following the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the pandemic disproportionately affected the hospitality sector with some areas still not recovered to pre-pandemic levels and tied to the soaring food, labour and energy costs we face ourselves navigating an incredibly challenging period of time for the industry.

With any time of rapid change to a sector there will be winners and losers. Businesses will leave the marketplace and open opportunities for stronger operating businesses. If we can operate to a higher quality, control costs and drive margins there are sales to be taken. As businesses reduce trading periods to offset costs the lack of consistency opens up to businesses wanting to take market share.

Q: With the ongoing recruitment challenges facing the industry have you changed your approach to attracting talent?

Shezan Aslam - It is clear since the recent lockdown there is a huge shortage of hospitality staff available as many have made career changes. As our industry was one of the worst hit, employers have had no choice but to change their approach to attracting talent, as if you don’t, you simply will not attract the staff you need and will be left behind.

Steve Grocutt - No. The culture has always been number one for us. We treat our teams like family. We have many bonus and incentive schemes, training programmes, internal promotion then after two years as a manager or anybody after five years you qualify to our shareholder scheme

Ricky Towers - While the incredible shortness of staff we faced over the end of the Covid crisis and the impact of Brexit feels to have eased somewhat, we still face areas that have very tight recruitment. Working with partners like Penny Cook Recruitment have helped us find high-calibre managers for some of those vacancies. Working conditions and patterns are now key to recruiting new talent, with people taking time to reflect on needs and wants.

Q: Are you still planning Capex projects, new openings and investment programmes, or are you consolidating?

Shezan Aslam - We are operating businesses as normal and currently many of our hotel owners are working on new openings.

Steve Grocutt - We are increasing it. The next year will be the highest ever!

Ricky Towers - There is always a need for prudence and consideration when the market is in the position it is in, but the right opportunities cannot be missed or taken advantage of. BGC is a forward-thinking business and this year alone we have acquired three new centres and rolled our restaurant investment across the group.

Closing thoughts from Penny Cook

Yes, things are tough right now – costs are increasing, recruitment is challenging, and a recession may be pending. But acquisitions are still taking place – Hillier Garden Centres just acquired Rosebourne, and Blue Diamond Garden Centres just acquired Van Hague to name just two. You regularly read in the industry press of others too. Companies and clients are, in some cases, sitting on expansion plans, but not ceasing it all together. Other businesses are still going full steam ahead and are very much planning for the boom after the bust.

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