There’s not been many sectors hit harder in the pandemic than the hospitality industry.
We’ve heard about the plight of pubs, bars and restaurants but what about those businesses serving the industry?
We caught up with Liam Jones, CEO and founder of Foursquare, who provide health and safety solutions for independent businesses operating in the sector. We started by hearing from Liam where his passion comes from and how he’s been doing his bit for the industry during 2020.
1, Where does your passion for the hospitality industry come from?
I’ve always had a huge passion and respect for hospitality. It’s a key industry that does so much for society. It feeds us, entertains us and consoles us – it’s always there for us whenever we need it. It hasn’t always got the credit it deserves but hopefully now it will be seen as a key industry and one that we need to protect.
2, How have you tried to help members of the industry that have been struggling since the pandemic began?
One of our jobs at Foursquare is to make these superb venues as safe as possible for both staff and guests. When the pandemic started we knew we had to do something to help the industry manage this new safety risk. So, during the first lockdown we worked hard to understand the virus better, the emerging best practices to control its spread and also the new legislation which was to be placed on hospitality.
We brought all of that together to launch our Covid-Safe scheme which helps independent venues assess the risk of COVID-19 in their venue, decide on control measures, implement and monitor them suitably.
We wanted to help as many businesses as we could through this crisis and knew many wouldn’t have the cash to pay for the help needed so we introduced a new ‘pay what you can’ pricing model. It means that the Covid-Safe scheme was available to everybody regardless of their current financial position.
3, What insights have you learned about the hospitality industry this year from the podcasts you’ve organised?
Earlier in the year we launched our podcast ‘An Hour With An Indie’ and it’s my favourite part of my job. Every week I get to speak to the most inspiring leaders in hospitality and retail, hear about their stories and go into detail about the businesses they run.
To me, the main thing the podcast displays is how human we all are – how similar a business owner with 10 venues is to a business owner just getting started. We all feel the same things, we all have good times, we all have bad times, we all feel alone at times and we all have doubts.
Hospitality is a high risk industry. It takes a certain type of person to take that risk but over the course of the podcast episodes I’ve learned that the industry is open to all types of people, from all types of backgrounds and anybody can make it if the passion and hard work is there.
4, Would you still encourage people interested in starting up a business in hospitality next year to do so? And what advice would you give to them regardless of the pandemic based on your own experience in helping operators in the industry?
I wouldn’t feel qualified to advise on whether to start a hospitality business right now. Although I work around the hospitality industry everyday there’s an awful lot about its inner workings that I haven’t been exposed to.
But what I would say more generally, is that if somebody has an idea that they think is unique, useful, entertaining and exciting (in any field of business) then they should do everything they can to follow their dream and make it happen. Having 100% conviction in your own ideas is always step 1, you can’t skip that part. From there it’s all about attracting people to your idea – co-founders, employees, partners, investors, customers, suppliers – everybody has to believe what you believe.
If you’re supplying to the hospitality industry, as we do, then you can’t fake it. Hospitality operators are remarkably switched on and they will see through a product or service which isn’t useful. So, my advice would be to test, test, test, make sure hospitality wants what you’ve got.
5, Do you think there are special qualities peculiar to the hospitality industry that are required to make it?
Working in hospitality takes an extraordinary amount of energy, resilience and determination. It’s a rollercoaster even when we’re not experiencing a pandemic. From the conversations I have with my clients, it’s clear to me that if the passion and love for the industry isn’t there then you shouldn’t get involved, because it’s that passion which will see you through the challenging times.
6, What are some of the standout topics from guests on your podcast related to this year and their broader experience working in hospitality?
Apart from the obvious topic of dealing with COVID-19. There a few topics which reappear during my conversations.
The first is the lack of experience most operators have at the beginning. Clearly, everybody has to start somewhere and your first coffee shop will always be your first, but it’s amazing to hear the stories from the likes of Maray and Panoramic 34 – amazing operators with superb businesses, but when they first started, they were learning on the job. They had no systems, every shift was about doing their best, learning lessons and trying to make the next shift a little better. In fact that’s exactly the problem we’re trying to solve at FG, by making professional services much more accessible so they can start their business with more confidence.
The second big topic is always the idea of independence itself, it’s the theme of the podcast and a conversation which is never exhausted. What defines independence? What are the benefits of it? What are the drawbacks? Why is it important to some and not to others? I had a great conversation on episode #11 with Philip Eeles, Co-Founder of Honest Burger. They started ‘independent’, sold a share of their business to a VC group and expanded to 37 stores – but the Co-Founders are determined to keep hold of the independent spirit and values which got them to where they are. It will be interesting to see how the Honest Burger journey turns out and Philip has already agreed to come back on in 6 months to update us.