Creative ingenuity and a willingness to positively adapt is certain to prove pivotal as local businesses come to terms with the impact of COVID-19 on their daily trade.
As the hospitality industry strives for a pertinent business presence upon commencement of Phase 3 of the roadmap to recovery on June 29, Corner House Bistro proprietor, Joe Connolly, spoke to the Athlone Advertiser this week to detail his thoughts as the popular family run establishment seeks to reopen in an environment baring scant recognition to that which prevailed prior to the implementation of restrictions.
“Our final day to trade prior to the implementation of lockdown restrictions was on March 14, a wholly surreal experience, as restrictions were implemented swiftly upon Government announcement.
“ When such a scenario unfolds you immediately think of your fourteen staff members, many of whom have families to support. Thankfully, the COVID-19 payment scheme was soon implemented by the Government which has been a source of relief to all concerned,” Joe remarked.
As reality dawned that businesses were not for reopening imminently, Joe, and his partner Linda, who also works in the family business, noted the urgent need to address their product and how to adapt to new working surrounds upon the easing of restrictions.
“We effectively had to reinvent our Corner House Bistro product and that we have been focussing upon during these past times. Should the two metre social distancing measure remain in situ, it would dramatically reduce the opportunity for our customers to eat on-site.
“You are envisaging a scenario whereby a 60 seater establishment will be reduced to hosting a mere six or seven tables under the current regulations, which obviously will have a detrimental impact on our business,” Joe noted.
With such a scenario looming, Joe and Linda are currently in the process of designing the Corner House Bistro website which will feature products for sale from their online store, an area of the business which they have been striving to develop and enhance since first opening their doors on Dublingate Street eight years ago.
“We are renovating our floor space to accommodate our online product. Should current COVID-19 statistics prove favourable as we advance, I would be hopeful that IBEC would address the two metre social distancing measure with the aim of reducing same to 1.5 metres.
“ Such an occurrence would be most beneficial and enable us to work in a more positive customer space,” Joe added.
Unsure of the attitude of customers towards sitting within eateries upon the reopening of the business, Joe asserted that their product offering would be readily available for takeaway purposes.
“Our food is geared towards the sit-in customer but we are adapting our menu to suit the needs of the person who wants to call in at lunchtime and take their meal back to the office. The food has to be able to travel and maintain its high standard also,” Joe continued.
While grants afforded to the support and reopening of businesses have been welcomed, Joe admits that he is “going forward blindly” with regard to the eventual return to trade.
“Grants afforded to the process are to be welcomed, but they do not cover our necessary investment costs as we strive to reinvent our product. Financial aid is necessary at this time and the decision to waive commercial rates for a three month period was a timely boost, but it is difficult to implement a concrete plan for the future while you await further reassurance in this regard.
“Behind every challenge is a solution, once it is viable,” Joe concluded.