July 4 is nearly here. How are the bookings looking at Lympstone Manor?
We’re taking booking and booking for the next three months. There has been an incredible amount of interest in the south west an unprecedented amount of bookings at one time. We are in three months of catch up - we’ve gone from zero to 80% capacity for July and 50% of that in the last week. There’s also been growth [in bookings] going beyond July into August and September.
That must be a huge relief
We’ve taken on a massive amount of debt to survive so if we can rescue our season with July, August and September it would lessen the impact of the damaging few months we’ve had and give us the ability to salvage something. Even breaking even would save me thousands of pounds. For some this could be the difference between survival or not. But I’m not suggesting things will be going back to what they were.
Is it a daunting prospect to be opening this early on?
We have a responsibility to look after staff and people and stop the spread of the virus and we are doing what we canto mitigate the risk while being open for business. I don’t think people realise in the hospitality sector we have to go through vigorous cleaning routines anyway - we are constantly sanitising surfaces and washing our hands because we are in a food prep industry. Where it’s more challenging is taking some of those measures out front, and removing touch points in the bedrooms, items that would be left in the room for people to read or pick up. Dealing with PPE and the wearing of gloves and face masks where appropriate and having the social distancing will also be a challenge. We have to sanitise the environment a bit and that takes away some of the character. We are working out how to service room service and breakfast and how to receive people. We want to give a warm welcome, but at a distance.
What will be different in the early stages of reopening?
We will be opening in evening just for residents. We have three different dining rooms at Lympstone and we will only be opening one at lunch and manage people turning up at set times. We will work with one dining room and modify systems to make sure we are confident with what we are doing and then open up the rest once we feel we can deal with it. When we open up for non residents we don’t have that many tables - we have lost 30% of tables so they need to be reserved for staying customers. We have 21 rooms and 24 tables so we will have to do a second sitting and elongate the service to get the same amount of people in. We’ve got a fairly comprehensive plan but until we open we don’t know how it will go. People are unpredictable, they don’t do what you think they will.
And you’re launching The Cove on the same day?
Yes, it opens on Saturday night. What we’re worried about with that restaurant is that it’s by the beach so there will be walk ins - we just need to look at reservation only maybe. Bookings have gone through the roof so if we don’t restrict that offer you know that by the time you get to a sunny day you are going to have hoards of people looking at restaurant wanting to be served. It’s a different challenge but nevertheless it’s good to be open.
And you were looking to open another restaurant on Exmouth seafront...
I was down there earlier this week. It was meant to be opening in a month’s time but that won’t happen, the project was hit badly by Coronavirus. But we are going to finish it and fit it out this year and then open it next spring. There is no point in rushing it, it’s not going to be a good opening in November or December but we can hopefully open with a bit of a launch in spring and be up running for the summer season.
And you’ve also now taken on the a former Rick Stein restaurant
This is such an exciting part of my life, I’ve been busy doing work at Lympstone Manor as well and the Coronavirus has given me time to reflect. It’s been tough - the first month was a nightmare, where you go from trying to deal with it to dealing with it to then looking forward to reopening. I got used to having weekends off but it’s back to late finishes and early starts and not much time off. However, the time off has given me time to reflect on how I want to live my life. I took the opportunity while closed to extend and expand and continue to look to the future with optimism. We are delighted to have the opportunity to pick up where Rick and Jill Stein have left off, taking over this wonderful property in Porthleven. But at the same time I am very aware there is many a challenge on the horizon. By no means are we out of this situation yet.