Ever-changing Covid regulations mean it’s a challenging and frustrating time for the hospitality sector but two of the Tees region’s leading lights have revealed how their businesses continue to succeed against the odds – and how they’re already planning future “reinvention”.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” admitted Roberto Pittalis (above, left), owner of Norton’s Café Lilli in discussion with Tess Business executive editor Dave Allan on the latest PD Ports-sponsored Tees Business Leaders Live Q&A.
“Every day something new happens, but it’s also a very interesting time. The help from the government in terms of the furlough scheme, loans, grants and reduction of VAT has been a huge help, but that’s only temporary.
“Christmas won’t be normal and 2020 has gone, in my opinion. What we need now is to look to the future, to 2021 and ‘22, to see how we can reinvest, recreate, open more when the time is right and generate more jobs.”
Jason Adams (above, right), managing director of the award-winning Rockliffe Hall Hotel and Spa, agreed, saying: “It’s all about reinvention.
“We’ve had to adapt and evolve – and quickly. Our business models have completely changed since Covid. In the past, we had around £900,000 of weddings and events in our event space here. Next year we have £234,000 forecast.
“While that doesn’t sound positive, profit has shifted into other parts of the business. Food and beverage is up 49 per cent, golf is up 28 per cent and rooms up 50 per cent.”
With current regulations meaning that families must stay within their own bubbles, Roberto and Jason have had be creative with their offerings.
“We are more leisure-driven now, with couples and families who can stay in their own bubbles,” explained Jason.
“We can’t market events as we can’t have them, so we’ve had to drive our commercial strategies into the leisure market and the high-spending fine dining market.
The Tees Business Leaders Online Q&A – in association with PD Ports, owners of the UK’s fastest growing port, Teesport.This week we’re joined by Rockliffe Hall managing director Jason Adams and Roberto Pittalis, owner of popular Norton Italian restaurant Café Lilli.
Posted by Tees Business on Tuesday, 13 October 2020
“We have a business here with no events, only two of three restaurants open, no spa days, yet we are 50 per cent up on last year and we have plans to drive the leisure market still further next year.”
Roberto is still figuring out how continued laws will affect his business, but he is confident that he can ride the storm.
“We are still taking bookings despite the 10pm curfew and only people from the same households being able to visit,” he said.
“It’s frustrating not being able to run the restaurant to full capacity and I’m actually having to turn bookings down, but it’s our job to offer a break from the stress, some kind of normality. That’s important for the morale of guests and staff.”
Jason also has the well-being of his team at the forefront of his mind.
“We have more than 200 employees so you have to make sure they are OK,“ said.
“We have implemented a well-being programme for staff and mental health well-being training for managers so they can spot anyone who may need support. We use the mind therapy bed and offer treatments to relax and put our employees in the right frame of mind to stand in front of our guests.”
While both Roberto and Jason agreed it’s been tough to keep on top of Covid practices and ensure their teams are up-to-date on restrictions and fully compliant with the rules, they are doing it with good humour.
“I’ve never worked so hard, but I put a smile on my face every day,” laughed Jason.
“At times, you think you’ll never see the end of it, but we live to fight another day!” added Roberto.