Miss London Concierge were delighted catch up with Rachel Harty, Founder of HospoDemo, about her recent demonstration outside of parliament, and why this is just the beginning of her fight for the hospitality industry.

Rachel thank you so much for taking the time to chat to us today.  What an incredible response to HospoDemo, both from the hospitality & events workers, the press and the general public.  Tell us a little bit about HospoDemo and what motivated you to start the campaign? 

I had just finished maternity leave in March this year, and was ready to start back working in my job as a freelance marketing consultant to hospitality businesses, when the Coronavirus pandemic hit. Most of my new business leads got cancelled as hospitality businesses had to close, and I had to stay home to be a full-time mum as my children couldn’t attend school and nursery. So I decided to extend my maternity leave. I started working again in June when life started getting back to normal, and had a great few months. Then the curfew was announced in late September and the situation really started to go backwards for the hospitality industry.

I had a call from a client soon after the curfew announcement, at their wit’s end as they had recently launched a late night bar and their business was badly affected by the curfew. They felt that something impactful, like a protest, needed to happen to grab the government’s attention and try to change the situation, and they suggested I do it. I mulled it over for a week or two then decided to go ahead all guns blazing!

Ultimately, I founded HospoDemo as a response to the terrifying situation so many hospitality professionals and those in ancillary businesses that support them (including freelancers like me), are faced with. People are desperate because their livelihoods are on the line.

Did you expect the turn out and reaction you have had in such a short space of time? 

Despite only having eight days to organise the demo, the response snowballed quickly, with support from all areas of the industry. There were around 600 protestors on the day, which was much more than I was expecting, including lots of big industry names such as Yotam Ottolenghi, Jason Atherton, Tom Aikens, Margot & Fergus Henderson, Alessandro Palazzi, Alex Kratena, Monica Berg and Jan Konetzki. I was concerned there might be too many people attending, making social distancing challenging (and possibly resulting in a public backlash), but it was a decent-sized crowd that were respectful of social distancing rules and all wore masks. The noise the crowd created by banging their pots and pans, shaking cocktail shakers, and ringing last orders bells was really something to behold and could definitely be heard over the road in Parliament!

The response from both the public and the industry afterwards was hugely positive, and the demo itself received coverage on all the major news broadcasters, every national newspaper and throughout the hospitality trade press.

What support package do you want to see from the Government to ensure the survival of the hospitality and events industry? 

Now we’re about to start a second lockdown, hospitality and events businesses will obviously have to close. The government’s extension of the furlough scheme is a good start for employees, though it doesn’t take in account TRONC (tips) earnings, which means many employees will lose out on a huge proportion of the support they should be receiving. There also needs to be a significant bailout package for operators themselves, otherwise many will not be in the position to re-open when lockdown is over. Rent, their biggest fixed cost, is still payable, so the government needs to work with landlords to come up with a workable scheme to ensure operators are not saddled with huge rent bills for periods when they have been forcibly closed – if this doesn’t happen, thousands of businesses will not weather the storm.

 Tell us a little bit about your background in hospitality? 

I’ve worked in hospitality for most of my career, on the marketing side. For twelve years, I was Head of Marketing & Events for a media owner that published a restaurant guide and various hospitality magazines, and ran various hospitality-related events and exhibitions. After that I decided to go freelance, focussing on marketing and PR for restaurant, bar and hotel clients. I was also involved in the launch of PX+, a festival solely for the hospitality industry, and on the launch team for TRADE, a members’ club for hospitality professionals. From this experience, I have a pretty unique understanding of what makes the industry tick, and a large network.

What’s next for HospoDemo? Are there any more demonstrations planned? 

I’m currently canvassing opinion for various stakeholders around the industry to find out the consensus with regards to what is needed from the government to help the industry survive. I’ll use the feedback to inform how and when to hold another demo, but yes it’s very likely there will be another one as hundreds of thousands of hospitality professionals’ livelihoods are still on a knife-edge.

How can people get involved and help support this campaign? 

Follow HospoDemo on Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter to keep an eye out for details of the next demo, and try to attend if you can. We need even bigger numbers to make an impact and get the message heard so real progress can be made.

A huge thank you to Rachel for taking the time to chat with us.  This campaign deserves all the coverage it has had and more to ensure our industry is heard.  See you at the next demonstration!