How Brighton pub The Cleveland Arms, held its team together through lockdown and put themselves in a strong position to reopen. We spoke to owners Sarah & Jamie Davies:
How did you stay in touch during lockdown? “We started with a WhatsApp Group, like everyone else! At first it was all about furlough and the practicalities of financial support. The team wanted to know if we were ok. We reassured them how valuable they are and how every penny was to make sure we could keep paying them.
“When we reopened we wanted our same team with us. We knew things might happen in their lives as time went on, but we wanted to give them all the opportunity to return to work, whatever that would look like.’’
How have you led up to reopening? “We’ve not been in any rush. We did things gradually for example takeaway roast dinners where almost everything is finished but customers do the last little bit at home with instructions. This took the pressure off the kitchen - allowing them to focus on each separate element of the meal, get it all tasting great and looking great and remove the worry about keeping it hot.”
How did you manage the team and job roles leading up to reopening? “So much of what we’re doing is to make sure we can avoid the worst outcomes and look after our people. We’re planning quite conservatively, thinking through the staffing levels we will need at each stage of reopening. Understanding people’s personal situations helped us to work out how we can match with what they need.
“For example some of the team have moved away temporarily and don’t plan to come back to Brighton till September. This will hopefully give us the chance to rebuild the business. In the meantime we’ll also be using the part-time furlough option.
“Other staff members are rethinking their career paths, for example some who were planning to start masters in the autumn may now delay for a year. Understanding where everyone’s at is helping us balance everything out.
“You do have a bit of a guilt as an employer, about not being able to pay someone as much as they’ve earned before, but we’re trying to do what we can to support each other. We need our team’s support as much as they need ours.’’
What new issues are you anticipating your chefs might experience as you start to reopen? “We need to look out for people’s mental health, which is something we’re hot on anyway. Having managed teams for a number of years you can notice when there are differences with someone and you need to pull them aside.
“We won’t be able to have many people in the kitchen at one time and chefs may be anxious that there might be more responsibility on them personally during service.
“Also customers won’t have eaten out for ages so there’s going to be a lot of expectation.”
Has the work you’ve put into staying as one team helped prepare you to reopen? “Keeping in touch from the outset has been hugely important and means the team’s able to fall back into place. The challenge is going to be how different things will be and how much the business is going to have to adapt.
“Part of that is listening to the team. They have their own perspectives and we want to encourage their ideas.
“While there is some nervousness about making sure everything’s completely safe, people are so excited about coming back to reality. They say they’ll never moan about their job again!”