Opening a restaurant during a pandemic – is it worth the risk?

“Are you crazy?”

We can’t count how many times we’ve heard this during our conversations about opening a restaurant in a pandemic!  Maybe we are, but great things can be born out of risk-taking, and on 20 October 2021, we opened our doors to the public with fantastic success.

Opening a new restaurant venue is challenging in the best of times, let alone when movement and activity restrictions are in place.  Add new technologies along with heightened staff and guest safety protocols to the usual recipe of finding the money, space, furnishings and equipment, and you’ve got a boiling business start-up dish in your hands.

However, we’ve got thick skin, and here we’ll share our story and some tips that will hopefully help you take the leap of faith.

Our journey to date 

As Darwin pointed out, it’s not necessarily the strongest that survive but those that can best adapt to the changing environment.  Darren Strickland, our co-owner, certainly had to after being dealt redundancy cards from his previous cheffing career in August 2020.   Darren used the preceding furlough time before this unfortunate (or fortunate) event wisely and set about helping Stuart Bailey with StirrUps, then a gin bar operating from a converted horsebox.

Even this venture had to adapt quickly when the pandemic halted events, and we morphed into a cocktail delivery service around Evesham.  Although successful, limited growth opportunities existed, sustainability proved an issue as the world changed again with the agonisingly slow reopening of the hospitality sector.  Stuart and Darren sat down over a beer to discuss the future and saw a gap in the market – cue the light-bulb moment!

The future wasn’t Orange™; it was indulgent ‘dirty’ burgers and quality street-style food!  So, we again performed the magic change act, evolving StirrUps into a burger and cocktail delivery service run from a small home-based kitchen.  This endeavour was the seed from which meaningful growth could flourish, and following a booming first year, in stepped Dan Walker, Stuart’s brother-in-law, to help acquire our first premises.

Fast-forward months of planning, financing, venue refurb, marketing, blood, sweat and tears, and we were ready for launch – and boy did we launch!  Over a series of structured soft launch nights, friends, family, and stars turned out to taste our dream.  From sporting celebrities to local business owners, we received fantastic feedback and constructive inputs that would help tweak our offerings ready for our official opening.

How did we do it, and what did we learn?

No business start-up is faultless or follows the same trajectory, as different hurdles appear.  Ours was primarily the Covid-19 pandemic and the refurb supply chain, but when you have a sound blueprint of an idea, you can jump whatever blocks your path with a bit of ingenuity and creativity.

Community first

We started by looking around at our community and how the effects of the pandemic were having an impact.  ‘We’re all in the same boat,’ is a phrase we’ve all heard bandied around, but it’s true, and we wanted to be part of the solution to bring some normality and joyful experiences back into peoples’ lives.  

From creating employment opportunities to supporting local suppliers by sourcing quality ingredients, we’re uniquely positioned to support our community and bring something positive to Evesham town.

Social consciousness is important to us, and we want to establish ourselves as a key contributing part of our community. That way, people trust us and are more willing to give us a try.

Adaptability and creativity

We’ve already mentioned this is the key to survival, and it really is when it comes to business.  Our ability to adapt and, being privately-owned, pivot quickly has undoubtedly gotten us to where we are today.

It’s been tempting to cut our losses and bail along the way, but our willingness, commitment, and some might say bravery (or craziness) to try new ideas has lit the path to success.

Hand-in-hand with adaptability comes creativity.  You have to think outside the box and know your clientele and what they want or need – starting our delivery service with unique offerings when we all couldn’t go far helped establish our brand in the community.

This gave us the ability to make that step change to opening a restaurant whilst still providing our delivery service with a product that no one else was offering.  Combined with live entertainment at our venue, supporting local musicians, we’re providing more unique experiences for people to enjoy.

Priceless PR

Relatively low-cost but priceless kudos was earned from PR, and we have to thank our fantastic marketing team for getting our story and business out there.  The soft launches enabled us to invite the who’s-who of the community and beyond, along with press and other media publication representatives, to our venue.

Once people know about your venue, what it offers, and starts generating positive feedback from influencers, the rest should be plain sailing!  Without our launch guests sharing their joyful experiences across social media and in the press, opening the doors to full bookings each night would’ve been a lot harder.

Cleanliness and contactless

We’d already established our vital hygiene procedures through our delivery services, so transferring these stringent processes to our venue was seamless.  It’s crucial to show the customers and authorities you go the extra mile to provide a safe and sanitary dining experience, especially in today’s environment.

We’ve embraced new technology to ensure we’re as touchless as possible and always ensure our establishment’s surfaces are clean, sanitised, and provide well-stocked bathrooms.  You’ve got to give your clientele confidence that you’re striving to be as hygienic as possible.

Would we do it all again?

Absolutely!  The support from our team, community, suppliers and customers is immense.  It’s what Evesham wanted and needed – our regular full bookings are testament to that.

If you’ve not tried us yet, come along and give us a try!  See here to book.