UK’s Hospitality Sector Needs a Vaccine of Hope

Oli Khan MBE, FRSA

We know that there have been many casualties in this war on the global Covid-19 pandemic; its impact has been felt across different sectors, incomes and families – it has touched us all.Covid-19 and the pandemic lockdown have had a detrimental impact on restaurants and takeaways up and down the country, not least on Britain’s £5 billion curry industry. It is now a well-known fact that the UK’s hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit sectors by the pandemic; an industry that’s made up of restaurants, cafes, pubs, bars, catering services, hotels, camp sites and other accommodation.

Many businesses have been forced to close completely and sadly, within the UK’s curry industry, which I am part of, I have seen some of our much-loved curry houses on the high-streets disappear. Restaurant owners I know, who once had thriving restaurants have struggled and are still struggling. Behind every small business is a small business owner – all with families, livelihoods and dreams. The impact of the pandemic on so many of these individuals and their communities has been devastating, both financially and emotionally.

The Government Helped Us Survive

In 2019, government figures show that the hospitality sector contributed £59.3 billion to the UK economy. Now data shows that the economic output in the hospitality sector was down 90 percent in April 2020, compared to February 2020. While other new industry research reveals that Covid-19 has cost pub and restaurant owners more than £40,000 each.

Over the last year, there has been some relief and the government threw us a lifeline with financial support: the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme,  a reduced VAT rate; a business rates holiday for 2020/21 (extended to 30 June 2021) and a series of small business grants and loans.  Many of us recovered over the summer of 2020, boosted by easing coronavirus restrictions and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme in August, but then things declined again from September as COVID-19 cases rose and restrictions were once again imposed. 

Now, the  latest statistics from the Office of National Statistics show that almost one in five hospitality businesses had “low confidence” that their business would survive the next three months. However, I believe there are still reasons to be optimistic, especially with the latest positive developments, where we are now able to receive customers inside and outside our premises, and of course news of the vaccine has given a big boost in confidence to hospitality business owners, like myself.

I have read that 89 percent of food and drink business owners are planning to continue or restart their current business, while more than one in 10 started a new business in the last 12 months. This leaves me with optimism, because I believe this pandemic has also triggered some current trends in the hospitality industry that will shape and redefine this sector, giving us further reasons to be hopeful.

Future Trends

Staycations & Local – The travel restrictions have given rise to staycations, where some people are also choosing to stay closer to home for environmental or budgeting reasons; and this year has seen a marked uptick in holidays spent more locally. There is a real opportunity for community-based businesses, which are often independent operators, to survive. But it is important that they must pay more attention than ever to their local audience and not rely on attracting customers from other places. With many vacant spaces and potentially lower rents, as landlords look to fill their properties again, this creates new opportunities for brave start-up businesses; chefs going it alone for the first time and entrepreneurs who’ve been held back before by the high costs of starting a bricks and mortar business.

Deliveries and takeaways – These have been a lifeline for hospitality, where in an immensely challenging market, technology has helped us navigate this period. We have seen takeaways soar via Apps such as Just Eat, Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Chefs Online and others which have become an important way,  that we in the restaurant industry are able to provide food and drink to our customers. Needless to say, the trend towards digital and contactless services has gained new momentum in 2020. It is important that if we as small business owners want to stay relevant, we will need to dig deep and ensure that we are part of this digital economy.

Sustainability – Being sustainable is high on the hospitality thermometer; where there’s now emphasis on avoiding disposable plastics, we are eliminating unnecessary paper consumption thanks to opt-in receipts, and reducing food waste. There are more far-reaching ethical and environmental considerations that are now shaping decisions being made at the hospitality management level. Customers are very sensitive to environmental and social issues, but beware of paying lip service to these values, as our customers are well aware that window-dressing exists, and they will not buy it or stand for it! Our eco actions as businesses can be simple: choosing local suppliers, reducing energy consumption, vegetarian and vegan options also foster environmental advantages.

Flexibility – The last year and a half has taught us that in order to survive, we need to be flexible and be able to adapt. Instead of simply reverting to business as usual, we must seize the opportunity to innovate in the ‘next normal,’ shaping not just our own business future, but that of the industry as well. Our priorities should be reinventing the menu, digitizing the customer experience and making sure we are far more sustainable.

Roadmap Of Hope

The actions that we as restaurant owners take now will go a long way toward preserving our business now through the current crisis, but also long after the recovery. The pandemic has shown us that we can build resilience, be creative and be socially responsible, and that while the hospitality industry has been hit hard, we, as owners are not going to go without a fight.

Thanks to the Hospitality Sector for Providing Complimentary Food

During the unprecedented Pandemic the hospitality industry served millions and millions of free meals to NHS and frontline staff. The  British Curry Industry Contribution in particular was more than millions of hot meals.  I personally served over 15K meals to over 20 hospitals and 40 care homes and key workers, bus drivers, postmen, ambulance staff, fire service staff, bin workers, Blind people, care homes, homeless people and so on and I will continue. We must follow and maintain the government guidelines even now, and for as long as Coronavirus lasts everyone should remember hands, face, space and fresh air. Stay safe.


Oli Khan MBE, FRSA is a Guinness World Record Holder, Celebrity Chef, Community Activist, and Philanthropist.