Sally Jones from award-winning The Hog Hotel in Pakefield reflects on the cost-of-living crisis and how it affects the hospitality sector, which has already been hit hard by the pandemic.
“A lot of hard work is hidden behind nice things,” – Ralph Lauren
In August, the BBC declared that the “cost-of-living crisis was worse than Covid-19 for the hospitality sector.” Could there be a more depressing statement for us hoteliers and restaurateurs than just that? The market is certainly proving to be very challenging at the moment.
While staffing will always be an issue for us in this new COVID world, we continue to be fortunate to hold on to a great and expanding core team. However, one of the biggest skill shortages across Suffolk currently is for excellent housekeepers to ensure our hotel remains gorgeous and who seem to be as rare as hen’s teeth. We know this because those we interview are also talking to all our competitors, meaning they can pick and choose who they want to work for. Recent candidates have told us of being offered double pay and no weekend working – something that a small hotel such as ours cannot promise or indeed justify. It seems the larger organisations in the area, such as the holiday park operators, are just digging deeper into their pockets and can swallow the hit it will have on their bottom line. And is it any wonder? Housekeeping is a tough job; from experience, we can tell you that some people leave their rooms in a disgraceful state. One recent charming couple’s visit meant we had to destroy the linen from the room, including the mattress protector, as well as having to take the room off sale for three days while it was deep cleaned, and the smell of smoke dispersed. Selfish acts like this are further costs that hit us and despite a fine to the occupants, it didn’t cover it all.
My very favourite no nonsense hotel expert Alex Polizzi declared in her recent series of The Hotel Inspector that hotels need to operate at 70% profit margins in order to cover the costs that customers don’t see and to allow the business to return a profit and continue to operate. This doesn’t mean we make a 70% profit! This means that we have made enough to cover labour, energy bills, food and drink costs, laundry, wear and tear on the rooms, and upkeep of the grounds to name just a few things. It’s tough out there. Big name restaurateurs such as Gordon Ramsay recorded at £7 million loss last year, Mark Hix has had to close his relatively new venture in Dorset and with rapidly rising energy costs and ingredients prices, McDonald’s has increased the price of their cheeseburger for the first time in 14 years. One independent operator in the northwest has claimed, and not to too much exaggeration, that the oil in his deep fat fryer is currently more expensive than unleaded petrol.
The odds are very much stacked against us. We have had to re-engineer the menu with more expensive items being removed for now. Our cost prices have gone up 30%, with some of the more unscrupulous suppliers not even bothering to call to explain or offer solutions, yet we can’t pass on this increase to the customer as they won’t come back. Our Executive Head Chef Terry Balme is creating more and more specials with whatever deals suppliers can offer him, and we will reintroduce a prix fixe lunch menu from September to offer great value for locals and guests alike. We are trying to think cleverly; we now have our own white label lager and bitter, which is cheaper than buying from the big brands; we have refreshed our wine list with more affordable options; and we will constantly try to find ways to keep our costs as keen as we can so that we can maintain our customers.
In short, bear with us and our competitors. We are working harder behind the scenes than you can imagine, as we all want to be here for you for the foreseeable future!
- To book a table or a room, or to discuss an event, call 01502 569805, or visit www.thehoghotel.co.uk
- 41 London Road Pakefield, Lowestoft, NR33 7AA