Alex Reilley: “Hospitality has finally got the respect it deserves”

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Loungers, Cosy club, Alex reilley, Coronavirus, Casual dining

Loungers chairman and co-founder Alex Reilley says that the pandemic has brought about a welcome shift in how the hospitality sector is viewed by both the Government and the public.

Speaking at Restaurant’s recent R200 webinar, Reilley said that the industry’s contribution to the wider economy and the UK’s social fabric was finally being acknowledged.

“The one positive to come out of this against what will, unfortunately, be a lot of negatives is that for the first time in living memory the hospitality has got the respect and appreciation that it clearly deserves.”

“We employ millions of people in the UK and we’re a huge job creating sector. People also now realise that the use of cafés, bars and restaurants and pubs is part of their daily routine. As someone that’s worked in the trade my entire professional career that’s great to see.”

Earlier this month , the all-day dining group reported an encouraging sales performance during the first four weeks of post-lockdown trading.

In a brief trading update, the group, which operates 165 sites across England and Wales under the Lounge and Cosy Club brands, said like-for-like sales were down by just 1.7% on last year between 4 July and 2 August.

Loungers said that whilst these are still early days, it is ‘encouraged by the initial strength of its trading performance to date’ and ‘remains confident the group will emerge strongly from this period’.

The group paused its rollout two weeks before it was forced to close its sites.

"Prior to lockdown we opened a site every two weeks, on average," says Reilley. "We made the decision to pause the rollout two weeks before we were forced to close, and even then it felt like a really difficult and horrible decision to make because it’s such an important part of what we do.

"We’ve raised over £8m through a placing on the stock exchange and we’ve borrowed another £15m from our two banks to provide us with the liquidity that ensures we can survive. The latter needs to be repaid, so we need to keep opening new sites."

A Cosy Club in Birmingham was due to open around the time the UK went into lockdown and launched earlier this week. 

“We’re not afraid of the post-Covid world. You’ve got to embrace it with some level of positivity. If you dwell on the negatives you’ll tie your self in knots and you won’t do anything.”

"There will be more real estate available than before and there will be landlords that will see the strength of the covenant we have as a business."

"But the thing that really excites me is that this is an opportunity for smaller businesses run by talented people to flourish. Prior to this it was nearly impossible for such businesses to grow and go into environments in which they could really flourish."  

Watch the whole R200 Webinar here.

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