Hawksmoor CEO Will Becket has described a decision to lay of staff as the pandemic worsened as “the worst day of my professional life”.

The premium steak restaurant group made an early call to make staff redundant, in order to safeguard the future of the business, which Beckett acknowledged they “took a bit of stick” for.

In the event, when the jobs retention scheme was introduced, those staff were reemployed and furloughed.

In a special interview focussing on people, the co-founder talked about leadership challenges, and balancing the expectation to put on a brave face, with the dire reality of the lockdown for his business.

Looking ahead, he predicted the hospitality sector, with its ability to restart quickly and create jobs, would be a crucial element to reenergising the economy.

On the making staff redundant, Beckett told MCA’s Restaurant Conference: “It was without any doubt whatsoever the worst day of my professional life. When we made the decision and we communicated it to the general managers and it was very very hard.

“We’ve taken a little bit of stick for having made that decision early. The country shut down on Friday, and we shut down on the Tuesday. Three days sounds like nothing, but if you remember back then, a day was a very long time.

“There were all sorts of thoughts that went into it, but I think in the end people, people understood. It was such great news when furlough came in and we could take people back

“Lots of those people remain with us and seem very happy it worked out. I think we’ve done a really good job of building bridges there.”

Beckett also discussed balancing the expectation of looking on the bright side as a leader, with telling it how it is.

“I am quite an optimistic person, but I am comfortable talking to people about quite difficult things,” he said.

“I don’t get overwhelmed emotionally by doing those things, so that is really what we’ve tried to do, we’ve just tried to tell people the truth, not hide things.

“We’ve been much more open and honest with our staff than we would normally, we’ve told people how much money we’ve had to borrow, how much money we lose every week at the moment.

“But we also say, we will survive, we will get through this. Even if this lockdown is double the amount of time we think it is, we will get through it.

“For the most part we’ve tried to do optimistic realism.”

Beckett said it was probably too early to assess the structural impact of the pandemic, and how many jobs in hospitality would be left at the end of it.

He said with many businesses artificially propped up through loans, government support, and protection against eviction, there could be further casualties when those debts are called in.

While inevitably some people had been lost the industry, he said, there was an allure to the industry that would attract new talent during the recovery phase.

“There’s something magical about the hospitality industry that I think will push us back up the government’s triage list at some point towards the end of this lockdown, which is when you start focusing on economic recovery.

“Not many industries can do what we can do in terms of getting going quickly. You tell me tonight that Hawksmoor can reopen in four days, and I will open every single Hawksmoor restaurant.

“Next week, I’ll be a net contributor to the economy, whereas now I’m a net drain.

“If the restrictions are low, I’ll want to employ people and if that all goes well, I may want to open another restaurant. That is quick to get open again, quick to hire people and quick to grow. It’s all possible.”

To watch all the footage from the event please click here.

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