We hope everyone is well and has managed to find some positive moments during this difficult time. From gardening to baking, exercise or online courses, and of course all the many people who have continued working - we’ve loved hearing how everyone has been getting on for the past few months.
From our side, we have been mostly closed since the government instruction at the end of March, however we kept some hotel bedrooms open for key workers as we wanted to do what little we could for the residents and visitors to York. The demand for this was low (which we saw as a good thing) and so we used the time to complete a lot of refurbishment instead: We concentrated on the public areas, as these have been difficult to tackle when open; and as a result the bar has moved to the far end of the restaurant, and we have a new dedicated reception area for hotel guests. These changes will help us manage social distancing, as we’re sure that some of you might remember the crowding that used to happen when hotel check-in took place at the bar near the door.
We have also launched a takeaway service, offering tasty classic comfort food to click-and-collect, served out of one of our restaurant windows on to Low Petergate, which did spark some humour, but worked really well!
The takeaway service will continue when the restaurant is open, to hopefully top-up any loss in sales from reducing the number of tables available in our restaurant.
Following the restaurant refurbishment and takeaway service launching, we have decided to re-open the restaurant with the name FOREST to signify a new start after the Coronavirus closure. Galtres Lodge is named after The Ancient Forest of Galtres so we take inspiration from this, and you’ll have seen hints of greenery and forestry in our restaurant even before we temporarily closed.
Despite our positivity and productivity, in reality the enforced closure has been devastating for us. Anybody who has followed our journey knows the work that we have been putting into the business since we took over on 12th October 2018: We spent a year building the business up, with a goal to make Galtres Lodge somewhere very special indeed. The year-on-year figures from November 2019 to February 2020 showed between a 30-40% increase each month, and we had forecast to average a 30% increase in sales for the full year of 2020, which would start to repay us for the substantial investments we made 2019. Then in March everything stopped.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for us, not least because our busy season starts from April, but also because of the outgoing costs already incurred that still needed paying despite the very abrupt stop of income. Chris and I had to provide a sudden injection of our personal savings into the business to make payroll, and pay all the suppliers, as many of them are independent businesses too. It was a lot of money, a lot. We aren’t eligible for any of the grants, even the poorly named “discretionary grant” (it’s not very discretionary!), so financially this has hit the business hard. Luckily, Chris and I had personal savings, and this is what has kept us trading. We’re a (relatively) young couple, wanting to buy a house (we started renting when we moved to York to buy and manage the business), and hoping to get married in 2021, but all of this is on hold now.
We’re proud that we have looked after the people who rely on us as best as we can. We paid 100% of the staff’s wages for the first two months despite only getting 80% covered by the government. We funded two payrolls from our savings before we received the first furlough grant reimbursement for the 80%, so that the team were paid on the usual pay dates. We paid all our suppliers soon after the end of the month (which is our usual speed). We have spoken to almost all of our guests personally to help them with postponements rather than refunds, and we’re so grateful that almost everyone was understanding, accepting, and happy with this plan - as a small independent business this has prevented a much worse outcome for us.
Anyway, we’re not here for a pity-party, but that’s the reality – some good days, some bad, but onwards and upwards by hook or by crook!
With regards to re-opening, we plan to do this as soon as we’re allowed (target Saturday 4th July 2020). Our risk assessments have been made following the government guidance for the different parts of the business. We have used the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) template, which we didn’t feel went in to enough detail for our dynamic business, so we also have also created detailed “guest journeys” for hotel stays and restaurant visits, with step-by-step procedures for every moment of time from guest arrival to departure. These have formed the basis of our staff training.
Chris and I feel strongly that a huge part of what of what we offer is the service. Even when we were rough around the edges, the feedback for our team and service was always glowing. We are really keen that this part of what makes us special should not be heavily impacted by the extra measures that we have put in place to ensure that we are Covid-safe. Our risk assessment is detailed, but at its core is the fact that WE will worry about cleanliness, safety, social distancing, and everything else that matters in these strange times. If you choose to visit us, you deserve to enjoy yourself, and we still want to offer a great meal out, or a fantastic stay, just like we did before Covid-19. Things might take a little more time, as we have doubled our (already pretty robust) cleaning measures, and of course we now wash or sanitise our hands after touching every single item that we make or serve to you, but that just gives you more time to relax and enjoy the experience!
We really do hope to see you soon!
From Chris & Bex x