Calm in a cost-of-living crisis?

By Brendan Padfield

- Last updated on GMT

Dealing with the bumps in the road: Brendan Padfield of the Unruly Pig
Dealing with the bumps in the road: Brendan Padfield of the Unruly Pig

Related tags: Food, Social responsibility, Freehouse, Pubco + head office

Brendan Padfield, owner of the Unruly Pig, Bromeswell, Suffolk, reflects upon the growing storm clouds facing hospitality.

I am a relative newbie to hospitality. Opening the Unruly Pig was supposed to be a glorious “retirement project” (albeit one longed dreamed about). While I believe I went in with eyes open (ie, owning a pub is no picnic) nothing really prepared me for so many bumps in the road. 

The first bump was a big one and came only 12 weeks after opening: a major fire and temporary closure (six months). But eventually we were able to dust ourselves down and got back on our trotters. The years that followed had their moments of course, but that is true of any people-driven business. However, just as we felt that we were developing a clear identity and position in our market, along came Brexit and labour shortages and then, to top it all, a world pandemic.

If that was not enough... 

And as they say, the rest is recent history. So, I am guessing I was not alone in cheering in 2022 to a new post-vaccination normal – hoping for some respite from the slings and arrows the country has had to face (but in the context that the hospitality sector has faced a disproportionate burden).

But if that was not enough, war in Europe arrived, feeding a major cost-of-living crisis. Almost every day, this crisis brings fresh and tougher challenges. I look in awe at how our team stoically cope and just adapt as best they can, in the face of adversity. Last week alone, Cromer crabs were facing Argentinian-like inflation and our linen costs went up another 26% overnight (they had already increased in January by 17%). The omens for the future are also not great.

This week, I heard about the pending egg price/supply issues that will hit the egg production cycle in five to six months (same old causes: Ukraine and the price of feed). The ‘R’ word (recession) is now more than a murmur and the OECD says the UK will have worst in league growth next year. And before that we have a further energy cap price increase that will inevitably lead to less discretionary spend on beers/meals out. 

... and the justification

But before I talk us all into collective depression, I hope it helps if I focus on some truisms:

  • Recessions come and go. Yes, there’s little avoiding that recession does create casualties but already I see our sector adapting and being nimble, testing new pricing strategies, reducing menu size, having a sharper focus on portion control, using less expensive cuts, etc. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
  • We have arguably been through worse and come out the other side, albeit I get with the support of the furlough scheme
  • Whatever your position in your own market, an even sharper focus on delivering value for money should, logically, win through. But can I suggest that you should think long and hard before denuding the key elements of your offering? Reputations are hard-won but so easily and quickly lost
  • The need to seem resilient and positive to your team always is, in truth, sometimes wearing but is even more necessary in difficult times. If you are happy and positive, so they will be too with your customers 

So much for my “glorious” retirement project, eh? Well despite everything, I can still honestly say that I have mostly never been happier since joining hospitality. There is little better in life that the sound of a busy pub on a Saturday night and the smiles and praise of happy customers. Overall, the grass has still proved greener for me. 

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