The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19. Despite this, there are many in the industry who have fought hard against these challenges to find new revenue streams and ways of working. One of these businesses is The Old Hall Inn – a traditional Peak District based village pub and inn.
They innovated fast to keep trading during the first lockdown, and kept adapting to overcome the ‘start, stop’ impact of tiered restrictions and two further lockdowns that have plagued pubs and restaurants with uncertainty.
We spoke to Dan Capper, owner of The Old Hall Inn, about how they’ve been adapting since the pandemic hit and how technology has helped.
Tell us a bit about the business?
The Old Hall Inn is particularly special to me because it’s also my childhood home. My parents ran the pub successfully for years before leasing it out, and growing up around the hustle and bustle of a local country pub gave me first-hand insight into the industry.
In 2004, my parents took back the pub from the leaseholders and in 2009, I returned from my career in London to work part-time at the pub and help kick-start its comeback. We totally transformed Old Hall Inn, refurbishing it into a full working inn, helping my parents move off-site so we could add three more bedrooms. Since then, we’ve worked hard to keep our offering fresh by doing things like introducing ‘The Pop-Up Street Food Kitchen’ – where we introduced a new kitchen and cuisine every six weeks.
How has COVID-19 impacted the business over the last year?
The constant lockdowns and tiered restrictions have had a big impact on how we operate. We had to close last March and immediately launched a click & collect and delivery service so we could keep serving local customers. We also started planning ahead for when we could reopen – moving out of the family home and converting it into additional space for the business to expand into for the summer months.
We also used the time to do a full renovation of the bar area at Old Hall Inn. This meant we were able to rebound very strong last summer. When we had to close again in November, we reinvented our click & collect with a smaller team doing the same number of covers and introducing a more innovative menu. This helped energise our team for the second lockdown and keep our customers coming back.
Have you had to adapt and innovate in response to the pandemic?
Absolutely. One area we focussed on was developing our own app as a long-term solution – even beyond the pandemic. We’ve used this app as a one point of contact for all our services like pre-ordering Sunday roast deliveries, click & collect food and ordering food or drinks to tables at the Inn when we are able to open. We’ve also looked at other new revenue streams like taking on a canteen at a local cement factory whilst they had lots of contractors on site.
How has Xero helped you manage finances?
Xero has been instrumental in helping to free up my time – ensuring I have a real-time view of our financials so we could make the right decisions and move fast during the pandemic. Xero Payroll in particular has been great, as it removes manual payroll entry. It also means we have all employee information in one place, which helps us claim grants and process things like furlough during this difficult time. We haven’t had to alter anything as our accounts and forecasts are live, so we can automatically map trends and cash flow.
What lessons would you say the business has learnt from lockdown?
Always maintain a level of liquidity. Adapt, and listen to your customers. Be honest with your customers, show your support for them, they will show it back. Stay interesting and relevant.
What are your top three tips for anyone thinking of going out on their own and starting up a business?
- Take the time to really assess what’s important to both yourself, but also to take a keen look at what’s important to your potential customers. Trends are changing so quickly, think hard about which trends are reactionary and will revert back, and which ones will continue with after the pandemic.
- Given the uncertainty of the recovery, it’s more important than ever to model different eventualities, and projections. Be honest with yourself about how each of these will impact you personally and the financial health of the business.
- Only do what you are very passionate about. Not only will that enable you to weather the difficult times, but the customers will feel it too. There is rarely space for businesses that don’t bring their all to the table.
Visit our dedicated site for more resources, webinars and inspirational stories to help you emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic. And to find out more about Xero Payroll, visit our Payroll learning centre here.