The hospitality industry has faced blow after blow during the Covid-19 pandemic which gripped the nation this past year.
The country faced three national lockdowns and ever changing tier restrictions to battle, it hasn’t been an easy ride for businesses.
Many had to shut their doors with others adapting and changing to offer different services to try and stay afloat.
So how have businesses fared before, during and after the lockdowns – and what have they learnt going forward?
We spoke to a number of different businesses, from delivery services to chain restaurants to find out how some survived and some thrived during the pandemic.
‘We worked all the way through lockdown. We did really go all guns blazing.’
One business that has thrived throughout the pandemic is a vegetable box delivery service: Veg in a Box.
Owner Julie Corcutt says the business is a family company supporting local farmers and suppliers by delivering produce across the county.
The tasty venture has been running for nine years, and the company has won countless awards in the South West.
Julie and husband Bela live on a farm and are surrounded by produce, and after making a veg box for a friend for his birthday one year, the idea of Veg in a Box was born.
The woman, who also owns the Devon Meat Box Company which delivers meat straight to customers’ doors, said that lockdown grew the business exponentially.
“I was really really lucky through lockdown as customers were so pleased with what they had that they all stayed with us so that was really good news,” she said. “I could give my staff more permanent jobs which has been really wonderful.
“We’ve all worked really hard and I never rest. I’ve always got another plan up my sleeve and we support as many other local producers and suppliers as we can.”
The business boss says that the lockdown was the busiest the company has ever been, but customers have stayed loyal as restrictions lifted.
Julie said: “We worked all the way through lockdown. We did really go all guns blazing. It was just like having Christmas every day all through the lockdowns.
“I can’t say it wasn’t hard work though. At one stage I looked at all the orders that had been delivered and it was nearly up to the ceiling. I looked at my sister and said, ‘are we going to be able to do all that?’
“She said, ‘we’ll do it, we’ll do as many as we can every day’. And we did it. What’s nice is all of those people have stayed with us, they haven’t gone back to the supermarkets. People are more eager now to support local because we looked after them when they needed us.”
The family run business turned over a staggering £1M last year.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams it would come to this, we actually turned over £1M last year. You can imagine how much we had to make to turn that money over.
“We’re only a little team, there’s about 10 of us. We’re all crackers, we eat a lot of cake and the kettle is always on. That’s why it works! We never pretend to be someone we’re not. We’re very hands on as well.”
Impressively, the company is already fully booked up for next Christmas.
Julie explains that her Christmas club goes down a treat with customers, and she’s busy preparing for the busy months.
“Because I’ve taken on more staff over the last year I’m able to do a lot more for this Christmas,” Julie said.
” I’ve actually already bought all of the Christmas meat ready for this year. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, we’ve already booked all our swedes, parsnips, sprouts, we’ve paid upfront for everything this year. “
The veg lover says that this year will be the first year that customers will be having a frozen turkey.
“[It’s] simply because our supplier hasn’t got European workers here so we’re having to have the turkeys done each week, we have 40 delivered each week.
“They’re all being frozen, so we’ve had to buy a lot more freezers but at least everyone will have a turkey this Christmas. It might be frozen but at least they’ll have one!
“I pay my suppliers all year round so I’m really confident nothing will go wrong.
“I’ll leave the supermarkets to do their thing, but we’re all sorted!”
‘We’ve bucked the trend, we never shut down and worked all the way through, we just grew.’
Another business which has seen stratospheric growth since the pandemic is Devon Hampers.
Adam Fox-Edwards is the brain behind the delicious venture, which enables people to send a taste of Devon to wherever they desire.
From fresh scones, cream and jam to delicious pasties and beer, Devon Hampers can deliver goodies to your door.
The family-owned business which operates in Lifton at Milford Farm is right in the middle of the countryside, and on the edge of Dartmoor.
Adam says he started hampers seven years ago as a sideline to a business he had at the time, and grew it steadily.
The business boss and CEO said: “We were always an online platform, nearly all of our sales were online and earning about 20 percent a year up until lockdown one.
“Thereafter, my traditional business had to shut down like everyone else but the hamper business then took off like a rocket and our sales had risen by a factor of 10. Not 10 percent, but by a factor of 10.
“Our business has grown exponentially, our peak was last Christmas. We had gone from two part time workers to 25 full time workers.
“From sending out a few hampers each month we were sending out between 500 and 1000 a day.
“Ours really is a big success story in terms of businesses that are thriving.”
A third of the company’s business comes from corporate clients such as banks and insurance companies which are keeping in touch with staff.
Devon Hampers has now received orders from a staggering 100,000 customers. Many of these ordered multiple times or large corporate orders of up to 1,000 hampers and so the company has also passed a milestone last month of delivering over 250,000 hampers.
Adam added: “We’ve built our own bakery, our own photo studio and so the business has just grown. Within six months of lockdown starting, Devon Hampers had grown to be bigger than the hotel company that had been on that site for years.
“Most of our suppliers are local. Some who would’ve gone through furlough themselves, like our jam manufacturer for cream teas.
“We were going from using 30 pots of jam a week to using batches of 2000, our demand was so big. He was bringing pots of jam to us and they were barely cool enough to put the label on. We had that much demand for cream teas.
“It’s authentic, we bake the scones here everyday, the pasties and pies fresh on the farm and in our own bakery and send them out by night by a courier. Then customers can enjoy a delicious cream tea or a pasty and beer lunch.”
The business prides itself on using local suppliers and produce to deliver its hampers.
“It’s been a great success story during lockdown. We’ve bucked the trend, we never shut down and worked all the way through, we just grew. It was bizarre at the time, the rest of the world was furloughed and we were coming to work every day.”
‘It has made business in general a lot more focused on survival’
The pandemic hasn’t been an easy ride for some, especially restaurants and pubs.
CEO of Bistrot Pierre Nick White has said it was a difficult time for his company, and the business still fears another lockdown.
Bistrot Pierre, which has venues in Plymouth and Torquay, elected to close before the lockdown as there were concerns about hospitality businesses spreading the virus.
“It was a horrendously difficult time, and one I wouldn’t want to go back to,” he said. “The rules were changing, there was lots of hearsay, that was a particularly difficult time.”
The CEO explained that during the lockdown, time was spent on the business and making it better. The teams focused on virtual training, menus and developing outside areas for diners.
When the restaurants were finally able to reopen in April, the venues focused on safety, and spent big on masks, sanitiser and perspex screens to keep staff and customers safe.
Due to reduced capacity and outdoor dining only to begin with, Nick says the teams worked extra hard to deliver food to its customers.
He said: “The miles some of the team walked to outside balconies and seating was just phenomenal. We were excited about getting reopened, but we’ve always been fearful of another lockdown, even now.
“We have a very different attitude to business, we look at the cash we have and want to make sure we could survive another lockdown. Its made business in general a lot more focused on survival.
“Pre-pandemic if you had a bad weather weekend whether it snows or rains it’s a disaster, but we’ve learnt to weather several months of lockdown, so it’s an extra level of resilience I don’t think anyone imagined we’d ever have. “
Get the best stories about the things you love most curated by us and delivered to your inbox every day. Choose what you love here