Brigit Bloch is the Founder of Brigit’s Bakery in Chandos Place, Covent Garden and the Brigit's Bakery Afternoon Bus Tour, on which customers enjoy a traditional tea aboard an original 1960s Routemaster while touring cultural landmarks throughout London. We spoke to Brigit about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the hospitality industry, and her plans now that the bakery and bus are back up and running.
1.) How has your work routine changed since you’ve been working from home?
Since our bakery in Covent Garden and our afternoon tea bus tours were closed, we used the ‘downtime’ to review all aspects of the business which are ordinarily harder to address whilst the business in full flow. We’ worked on everything from refurbishing our sites, to re-vamping our website together with a graphic designer, all the way through to making improvements to our customer service guidelines and other internal business structures too. As we effectively lost both Easter and Summer seasons which are vital to as a business such as ours that relies heavily on tourism, we’ve now skipped forward to planning our Christmas activity which we aim to make even bigger and better than previous years!
2.) What, for you, have been the biggest challenges of working from home?
The biggest challenges of working from home were in maintaining a similar schedule to that which I would follow under normal circumstances. As many people within the food and beverage and hospitality industries in particular have had their time cut down, or been placed on furlough, it’s taken much longer to obtain responses from suppliers and partners, which has made it harder to achieve objectives within a schedule.
3.) And what are some of the benefits?
‘Downtime’ is rare in an industry like ours where we are busiest when the rest of the country is on holiday. Therefore it’s been a positive to have some breathing room to concentrate on and finalise future projects. We’ve also dedicated our energies to reviewing certain aspects of the business which are harder to maintain whilst the business is in operation. I feel we’ve all realised during this time that it’s the basic things in life that matter the most. So as a business, we too worked to further enhance our offering by taking it back to our roots: to provide our customers with a unique experience with great food and great service. It also gave us the opportunity to connect on a different level with our teams across the board who are a vital part of our family, even via just a quick call to check in on them and their families at this time.
it’s been a positive to have some breathing room to concentrate on and finalise future projects.
4.) How has your team had to adapt to the current situation?
We had to place the majority of our day-to-day staff on furlough whilst the business was effectively put on pause by the restrictions. It was a difficult decision, but we’re thankful that the government made this scheme available. Thankfully, we are now back in operation, albeit a soft restart for the initial few weeks, and so we have a proportion of our family back at work!
5.) What changes has your business undergone?
Our bakery and afternoon tea bus businesses were completely closed for 3 months. In the meantime we, as the owners, took that time to push ahead with some exciting new plans for customers and staff to come back to. We continue to work on our first ever offering for children under the age of 5 in partnership with Peppa Pig. We’ve also seen the huge growth in the home baking market during the lockdown period, which we are now launching as a new arm to the business. Brigit’s Bake Club will be positioned as the Hello Fresh of the baking world. Subscribers will receive deliveries of all ingredients needed for specific cakes which will come complete with online tutorials and community too. People have a newfound appreciation for creating things with their hands and developing new skills. Brigit’s Bake Club is the perfect vehicle through which to achieve this.
6.) What advice can you share for managing and leading a team during a crisis?
Transparency and communication are key. It has been and continues to be an unprecedented and worrying time for all, particularly in our sector where we are so reliant on tourism as well. Therefore, we’ve been as transparent as possible with our teams to keep them abreast of all changes as soon as we know. We’ve also realised the importance of not becoming complacent. As business owners, we need to always innovate and keep thinking outside of the box in this ever changing world in order to maintain the business and hopefully start to grow again. Finally, stay connected with your customers, staff and partners. Their loyalty is key to any business and you need to work together to build a better future.
Stay connected with your customers, staff and partners. Their loyalty is key to any business and you need to work together to build a better future
7.) How do you think your industry will change as a result of this situation?
There will be a dramatic change in our industry. I don’t envisage a return to ‘normality’ until at least summer 2021 and even then, there will be a new normal. I worry a vast number of businesses won’t make it through as we hear of companies going into administration on a daily basis. Fortunately we have built our business on solid foundations; quintessential British values and a unique offering, and took our time to grow organically. The UK government has done what it could to assist with grants and through its many schemes, nonetheless the high street will never be the same.
8.) What is coming up for your business over the next few months?
We are thrilled to have reopened and welcomed customers back to the bakery and aboard our afternoon tea bus tours. We look forward to resuming our usual full schedule and also look forward to launching Brigit’s Bake Club and The Peppa Pig Afternoon Tea Bus Tours to our existing and new audience too.