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From the current phase they face to how they remain agile and flexible in their approach; discover how the owners of three leading venues, Hope & Sesame in South China, Maybe Mae in Adelaide and Flying Dutchmen Cocktails in Amsterdam, are leading during these times.

*Please note, the international hospitality landscape is ever-changing, and we would like to highlight that all responses in this article are correct as of July 2020.


What is the current situation in your country?

We are currently in week six after reopening our doors after almost 18 weeks of lock down. At the moment, the economy in China is recovering swiftly and consumer confidence is increasing in a positive trend. This is partly due to authorities easing up on strict social distancing regulations in bars and restaurants. In line with that a lot of the operators, ourselves included, have introduced comprehensive safety and hygiene measures, which helps instil confidence in patrons.

What flexible approaches have you adopted to manage your venue?

In an attempt to recover our losses during the lockdown, we have implemented a more flexible roster schedule between our venues, trying to leverage our resources in a more efficient manner. For example, scheduling bar staff to support our cafe during peak service and then resuming their shift at the bar afterwards, and vice versa. This allows us to cope with the current spike in business without hiring new staff.

How are you leading your team?

Throughout this period, we have made a real point of relaying positive and motivating messages to our staff, this is a time to show solidarity. We are also committed to being open and transparent, and delivering on our promises to the team. For example, we had planned a salary review in February, which we had to postpone at the time. The salary reviews were then conducted and implemented in June, which is something we hope motivates our team and helps restore a sense of normalcy in their mindset.

How are you planning ahead when the future is uncertain?

As our business is recovering and we are on more stable ground. We are resuming our plans of expansion which involves opening two new venues, in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. You will find in the current climate, a lot of great deals are available for those businesses who have the capabilities to expandand we believe it also sends a positive message that it is not all doom-and-gloom. That said, nothing is guaranteed, and we continue to keep a close eye on the global situation and are putting cash flow contingencies in place so we are better prepared should we become affected once again.


What is the current situation in your country?

Over the last few months, we have been faced with an ever-changing landscape with what has been one of our greatest challenges to date! In Adelaide, Australia, at least for the time being, stability has set in. Just recently licensed venues were permitted to fill to a density of one person per 2sqm, which for many of us is the difference between viability and not. Table service is enforced, and patrons can at last perch up at the long-envied bar seating. An evolution that changed much operationally for us. Effectively trading at full capacity due to our extended outdoor license, we are able to return to our full menu. Most of our casual staff members who have, for the last three months -essentially have been waiting in purgatory - have been reemployed.

What flexible approaches have you adopted to manage your venue?

Our approach is informed by our current view, we take a step back and consider legalities, customer needs/wants and other ‘out of our control’ forces on the business. This helps us devise a service template that meets these requirements and respond to the phase we are in.

During this time we have definitely had to get creative in our approach, particularly when rethinking our table layout, and we are relying heavily on digital technology to help us remain dynamic and reactive. Traditional service has been turned on its head and we’ve switched to things like digital menus and contactless payments to reduce in-bar contact. We have also rostered an extra person for all critical shifts to oversee and manage our safety and hygiene procedures.

How are you leading your team?

Since returning to the bar, our top priority is working with our team to ensure they are safe and feel supported. One of the critical challenges we face is the optimism and security disseminated through media channels. It creates an enhanced positive reality and the illusion that the situation as we knew it, is over. For us, it’s really important that staff are practising and upholding social distancing and hygiene standards despite this - something we continue to clearly communicate with them to ensure they have control of the room.

How are you planning ahead when the future is uncertain?

Forecasting is an important part of any business, and we certainly try to do so as best we can during this situation. Establishing a game plan for the next phase of both restrictions tightening and relaxing is critical in order to be reactive. It’s worth opening a dialogue with other local bar operators to discover how they’re approaching this too. In Australia there have been some renewed shutdowns so while we are trying to plan ahead, it’s also important to take each day as it comes and focus on preparing for the worst so we’re at least prepared.


What is the current situation in your country?

From June 1st the hospitality industry in the Netherlands reopened, almost three months since we closed our doors. As expected there a lot of safety measures in place, including physical distancing of 1.5 meters per table with capacity restrictions in place. That, teamed with the fact that tourism has not really picked up yet, means that it will likely be some time before our numbers -both in the bar and on the books - are back to normal again. Restrictions have eased which is encouraging, but we’re still adjusting and remaining vigilant across the country.

What flexible approaches have you adopted to manage your venue?

We have six bartenders on our payroll (five full-time and one part-time) so we needed to come up with ways to stay in the best possible shape financially.

The entire team took a proactive approach from day one. With geek mode firmly on, we researched our entire backbar, which consists of 800+ different bottles. This refreshed and improved our knowledge which came in useful during the live Zoom workshops we began to run for consumers. Alongside this Timo, my business partner, and I, got creative - we needed to improvise a lot with the ever-changing rules and regulations and think on our feet. Within a week we turned the bar into a full production area and started to bang out cocktail deliveries through Deliveroo, Uber Eats and weekly cocktail orders by postal service. We also setup an online store selling our bar tools, books and cocktail packages.

In doing this, we didn’t avoid the red numbers altogether, but we did keep them as small as possible. We continue to offer cocktail deliveries and keep the online store open to get those numbers up a bit and to create more hours for our team.

How are you leading your team?

Throughout the period of closure and as we as settle into this new norm, we’ve been as transparent as we can be with our team through regular, clear communication. We think it’s important that everyone is up to date on what’s going on and what measures we are implementing.

We are mindful of being positive though and do our best not to worry the team unnecessarily, they do not need to feel the burden of our stress or worries.

While away from the bar, we kept the guys busy by giving everyone individual tasks to complete, for example researching certain sections of our back bar. Every week we would then get everyone together on Zoom and host a presentation about a certain spirit, brand or category. I think we all benefitted from being together as a team, even if it was virtually.

How are you planning ahead when the future is uncertain?

It is difficult to plan ahead in this climate, and I know many of us are watching and waiting to see how the situation continues to evolve. Nothing is predictable and we’ve found that the best thing to do is be flexible and adaptive. Our second bar, Dutch Courage was meant to officially open on April 21st, but unfortunately that could not happen given the situation. It remains closed and we have taken the decision to keep it that way for now. You can only make a great first impression once and it would be such a shame to have to close the doors again after a month or so if things were to change.

Timo and I try to plan ahead as best we can though; we evaluate the internal and external environment and make informed decisions off the back of that. If things continue to progress as they are, we could be looking at launching Dutch Courage in August 2020. The bar itself is almost finished, and, if I’m honest, it feels weird for a bartender like myself to keep it closed, not show it off and to not make the drinks we have worked so hard to create. Fingers crossed it keeps evolving towards the positive side and we can welcome all of you from August onwards!


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