Column: Let’s bring bustling Harrogate back to life

Latest column from Simon Cotton, MD of the HRH Hotel Group responsible for The Yorkshire Hotel, White Hart and Fat Badger.

Friday, 3rd July 2020, 2:23 pm
Updated Friday, 3rd July 2020, 2:26 pm
Simon Cotton, MD of the HRH Hotel Group responsible for The Yorkshire Hotel, White Hart and Fat Badger.

When Boris Johnson announced the opening up of the hospitality sector on July 4 no one was more delighted than I was to hear the news that the green shoots for hospitality are on their way.

I make no secret of the fact that I celebrated that night, the phone had been ringing off the hook all day and I thought I deserved to, so drank some rather nice wine with my wife-to-be, raising a glass to hope and excitement for the future of hospitality.

With seven local hotels, pubs and restaurants to look after, I knew my team and I had our work cut out in the coming days but the thought of my industry coming back just fills me with excitement and I can tell you, I’m absolutely buzzing.

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As a town, we have all been working so hard together to try and keep businesses afloat, school our children, work from home and supporting our fantastic NHS and key workers. We should congratulate ourselves on how much of a closer community we have become as a result.

It’s a heart-warming moment for any business to know that when the times are hard, your community and customers are there, championing you to do well and spurring you on to keep going.

It’s been well documented in the news that the hospitality industry has been hit hard, very hard, and some of those local Harrogate businesses you know and love will simply struggle to bounce back.

We need now to work together like never before; to make sure we support each other, support local businesses and local jobs, to keep Harrogate going.

The local coffee shop needs your support right now far more than any international US brand does, the local restaurant needs you much more than the big fast food chains do, and the local pub could do with you choosing them over a big brand chain this weekend - and every weekend after that. I’m not saying that chains don’t deserve support, but we need any profits made to be ploughed back into our local community rather than disappearing offshore.

At The White Hart and The Fat Badger we have been looking after the NHS and key workers throughout lockdown, offering accommodation, breakfast and evening meals to those staying. We’ve learnt how to keep everyone safe and our team are well versed on Covid-19 protocol.

Re-opening for us may be easier than some as we have had weeks of practice, but opening up to a full scale operation across multiple sites still has its headaches so I fully understand like most that it is still a nervous time for many in hospitality.

So, if you are venturing out into Harrogate this weekend for your first post lockdown pint or celebratory meal, enjoy the moment. The beer will taste that little bit more special and the food will no doubt feel like its melting in your mouth, but please, can I ask a little favour on behalf of the hospitality industry; be patient with us for the first few days as we get used to the new way of working.

Choose somewhere you know and trust to do the right thing, be ready with your phones to scan a QR code for a menu rather than hold one, expect that there may be a little wait for your next pint and that you’ll probably need a table before ordering; and that that table will most certainly be disinfected within an inch of its life before you can sit down, but it will be worth it.

Also, bear in mind that not a single bar person or waiter you’ll meet has become an overnight expert in disease control, politics or even their own company policies. It won’t be their fault that they can’t give you a table at the last minute without a booking, or move some tables together because you have a bigger party.

No, they won’t be able turn a blind eye just this once so please don’t put them under pressure to do so. What you’ll find in the vast majority of places in Harrogate is staff that want to ensure you have a great time, the best of times, but will also have been trained to respect the Government guidelines.

Please respect the work they do and you’ll be rewarded with the passion and enthusiasm I have for hospitality because let’s face it, none of us came into this industry for the money.

Hospitality will bounce back, I have no doubt, but it is a long road ahead for many.

The more we can do as a town to support our local businesses, the sooner their teams return to work and the quicker we can bring the bustling Harrogate we’ve been craving back to life.

Come on Harrogate, we’ve got this, let’s support our independents and keep our beautiful town thriving for years to come. And, when Saturday comes, enjoy that perfectly poured pint.....with all that home-schooling and working from home you’ve certainly earnt it!