London restaurants face a “real reality check” come January and February, as consumers will pull back from dining out after Christmas, the boss of champagne bar chain Searcys has warned.
Diners will “want to batten down the hatches” next year after enjoying their first Christmas free of Covid measures in three years, with the cost of living crisis spelling concern for a lot of businesses, Paul Jackson told CityA.M.
Despite the gloomy headlines, the recently-turned-175 year old business has a lot of good news to raise a glass to, after its revenues have returned to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, sales are now around six to eight per cent higher than in 2019, the business exclusively shared with CityA.M.
This year alone, Searcys has poured 156,000 glasses of champagne and served more than 54,000 afternoon teas.
“You have to stay positive,” Jackson, who stepped into the role heading the chain amid the height of the pandemic in autumn 2020, said. “Sometimes in business, it is an individual business challenge but this is not, it’s an industry challenge.”
While the hospitality sector faces a torrid winter ahead, Jackson was optimistic businesses like his would “work through it, adapt and evolve – and sometimes make difficult decisions.”
While customers had typically booked events at Searcys portfolio of venues – which boasts iconic locations such as The Gherkin and St Pancras International – around six months in advance, the industry was now much more “reactionary,” Jackson said.
After years of disappointment due to Covid cancelling plans, consumers have a certain level of “nervousness” around Covid potentially returning, disruption from rail strikes, while the Queen’s passing also led to some cancellations.
However, on the restaurant side of operations, diners are eager to book in advance, with reservations now “very important” to the sector.
With the capital lurching into the teeth of a recession, is Searcys hesitant about the future at all? If so, Jackson does not let on, speaking unflinchingly down the telephone line. “We have spent a lot of time this year ensuring the business is ready for growth next year,” he said.
The business’s operations have diversified in nature as well as location, with an e-commerce channel selling champagne and venue experiences, plus a recent pop-up in Battersea Power Station.
Retaining staff is at the heart of the company’s growth plan – with bosses bringing in a new director of recruitment to solely fight the battle for talent being waged across the capital right now.
More than 80 per cent of pubs and restaurants have been facing difficulties with recruiting enough staff, according to research from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). This is compared to a 62 per cent figure at the start of the year.
Recruitment has been “very hard,” Jackson admitted. “You have to make sure to invest in the business, the culture and the benefits.”
“Service awards are invaluable for me, in regards to recognising the teams,” he added. “While money is important, and pay is front and centre, it’s only part of a job requirement.”
While future-proofing the firm, Jackson is keen for Searcys to remain true to its roots – the firm was created in 1847 by Searcy, a chocolatier for the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.
Over the past few years, the business has still “re-looked at what our true values are to make sure we stay true to what [founder] John Searcy intended,” Jackson said.