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Happy New Year everyone, I am certain that 2020 is one that we are all happy is now firmly in the rear-view mirror! 

It was a year ago, almost to the day, that I started to write my first article for Chef and Restaurant Magazine. 2020 was full of hope for us all, yes, we had the on-going Brexit saga to contend with, but no one could have foreseen the year ahead, and the colossal challenges each one of us, and our sector as a whole, would face. 

From March 3rd-5th I was asked to represent Chef and Restaurant Magazine on a stand at the Hotel Restaurant and Catering Show at Excel. I met and chatted to so many chefs and industry professionals over the three days, Covid-19 was with us then; we were two weeks away from lockdown, but still, its extreme effects were largely unknown to us all. 

It’s natural to reflect back on hospitality in 2020 as the complete nightmare we all know it to have been – lockdowns, uneducated and ever-changing restrictions, inexplicable and blanketed scapegoating of our beloved sector, the decimation of so many businesses, the loss of jobs, the economic devastation, and subsequently the impact to mental and physical wellbeing. However, I believe we owe it to ourselves to be proud, to shine a light on some of the individuals, businesses, groups and charities who have done great things to help their communities, and our wider sector. I, therefore, wanted to reflect on 2020 with some positivity, with a hope that does not devalue the experience of those who have suffered so deeply.  

Let’s start with the plethora of people who have been supporting the NHS. We could fill this whole magazine with accounts of the numerous restaurants, catering companies and individuals that have given their time and resource to help those that have helped us most during the past 9 months, it is impossible to mention them all, so apologies to those I have overlooked. Alex Bond and his team at Alchemilla, Chris Simpson at Penson’s, Tommy Banks from The Black Swan, Paul Ainsworth, Gary Usher the list goes on and on. Itsu donated £15,000 worth of food when first pushed into lockdown. Amadeus food also donated meals across the country. Chefs from Soho House have prepared and delivered 1000’s of meals across London. 

Hospitality for Heroes, founded as lockdown was enforced, began as Oli Coles realised his two businesses – one delivering restaurant marketing and the other working with private members’ clubs – would have to be put on hold. “I started to think about how I could help out my clients in hospitality,” said Coles, “At the time, it was in the news about NHS staff working extremely hard, coming home to empty supermarkets, being exhausted, some with their kitchens and canteens within hospitals being shut. We knew we could start some kind of a fundraising campaign to help keep our hospitality suppliers in business and to keep some very talented chefs busy and give them the chance to create some healthy meals.”

To date, the campaign has cooked more than 80,000 meals for staff at 11 London hospitals and has raised just over £30,000 to feed key workers. “The funds are used exclusively to buy produce,” says Coles, “We’ve got nine kitchens now, and they’re volunteering their time, as are all the chefs. We’re buying really fresh produce from suppliers and working with two delivery companies who’ve offered up their services.”

Hospitality focussed charities have also raised vital funds for those in need with Only A Pavement Away teaming up with Tom Aikens for their ‘5-minute Charity Cooking Challenge’ and the ‘Serve Our Soup Challenge’. Backed by their ambassadors Tom Kerridge, Heston Blumenthal and Fred Sirieix, Hospitality Action have been serving their ‘Invisible Chips’; a campaign set up to help people in hospitality whose livelihoods are disappearing. Over 130 businesses with 400 sites are ‘selling’ the chips, the initiative is on-going and has raised thousands to date. 

Hospitality recruitment specialists mum partnered with The Caterer, Caterer.com, UKHospitality, Healthy Hospo and Umbrella Training to organise the inaugural ‘Walk for Calm’. The Walk was the brainchild of Craig Prentice founder of mum and supported Hospitality Action and CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). Walks took place across the UK and raised just over £17,00. Craig is hoping that next year the walk will gain greater traction, grow to more cities with even more participants, smashing the fundraising total of 2020. As if that wasn’t enough Craig also founded nowpause.org in association with wellbeing coach Andrew Johnson and marketeer Peter Kerwood. nowpause.org is a self-care toolkit; an initiative that offers free, practical advice to keep your mental health in shape. nowpause.org features a series of podcasts which detail themes such as learn how to relax, sleep deeply, stay positive and live less stressfully. There are 17 podcasts worth checking out.

Alex Claridge owner of The Wilderness restaurant in Birmingham, self-funded and produced a video featuring volunteers from the region’s hospitality industry. The video, which was a call to arms for greater government support during the pandemic was conceived, produced and released within a week. It featured prominent chefs including Glynn Purnell, Aktar Islam and Andrew Sheridan as well as having a celebrity guest slot for comedian Joe Lycett. The video was picked up by the BBC and has been viewed over 250,000 times on Instagram alone. 

The scourge of the restaurant ‘no show’ reared its ugly head this year with huge negative consequences, especially post lockdown. To counter this Abi Dunn of hospitality recruitment company Sixty-Eight People cooked up the brilliant campaign No More No Shows ‘from the back of a boozer’. Inspired by a tweet from friend and co-creator of the movement, Antonia Lallement which stated that 350 guests from across the Gusto restaurants estate had ‘no-showed’ in their first-weekend open post lockdown, the ‘shoestring budget’ campaign, funded by Abi, aimed to raise awareness of the issue with guests – asking them to politely cancel so that tables could be resold rather than sitting empty. The pair were hopeful that some of their Manchester contacts would share their campaign but couldn’t have predicted its runaway success. 12 million Twitter impressions, local and national press coverage, celebrity chef endorsements and a billboard campaign led to a tangible positive impact on reducing restaurant no-shows across the UK. Abi said, “We couldn’t have been happier with the results. The entire industry got behind the image – we saw it shared as far as Dallas in fact!”

Special mention must go to Kate Nicholls OBE, Chief Executive of UKHospitality. No-one has been more helpful, shouted louder, lobbied government, provided educated and measured comment, or been available for national and regional press over this period, than Kate. She has been a vital representative for hospitality, and I am certain that the industry as a whole, like myself, would like to thank her for the tireless work that she has put into the cause this year. 

My final remark must go to our Editor Claire Bosi who started the Petition to create a Minister for Hospitality within the UK Government. 

Claire explained “The UK hospitality industry is responsible for around 3m jobs, generating £130bn in economic activity which results in £38bn in taxation. Yet, unlike the Arts or Sports, we do not have a dedicated Minister. We are asking that a Minister for Hospitality be created for the current, and successive governments.” At the time of writing the petition had over 150,000 votes and is due to be debated in parliament on Monday 11th January. 

I asked how she is feeling now, “When the email came in on Tuesday afternoon, I was surprised at the closeness of the debate date, excited that the petitions committee had approved the petition for debate, and nervous. This is so critical and so desperately needed for our sector and all those in it – directly or indirectly. This is the best chance we have had to get proper ministerial representation.

“There will be many conversations and much planning from now, up until the 11th January on how best to maximise this opportunity, and also, what the next steps could be, should the petition be unsuccessful. We have got this far, if we fall at this hurdle, we will pick ourselves back up and finish the race.

“In the meantime, we still plead with people to spread the word and continue to get more signatures. The more weight behind us as we head into Parliament, the better” So if you are reading this and haven’t signed yet please do so and share the petition within your teams and across your social media. 

If nothing else, 2020 has shone a light on the resilience, creativity, unstinting charitable and collaborative spirit in our sector. Which can only place us in the strongest position as we enter a new chapter for hospitality. 

2021, we’re ready for you.