Saturday May 29, 2021
Recently, I had a virtual “sit down” with William from Alfresco’s. Virtual of course because of the current pandemic meant we had our conversation remotely – pity really as I’d have loved the opportunity to break bread with him, the food is rather good, and enjoy an espresso.
I opened the conversation by confessing that I was sipping on a mug of instant. “When this is over, come over and enjoy a real coffee” he offered. An invitation I may just hold him too.
I began by asking him about his business.
“Alfresco is based on traditional Italian cuisine with some of the recipes still based on age old family favourites.
“We started over here in the late 70’s with a small café and with hard work, good food and a little luck my father made a success of it. We grew that into a restaurant and then relocated to the restaurant I manage today. Both my brothers and my older sister manage other restaurants and we all work to the same high standards. Although there is of course a natural family rivalry about whose is better when we get together, I have the advantage in reminding them that I run the original, Papa’s restaurant.”
I asked him about recent experiences, dealing with Covid regulations and how his business had faired since March 2020.
“I can’t pretend it hasn’t been challenging, no that’s not strong enough. Tough, it has been tough. We had that short period where people were advised not to eat out, yet we were still expected to open, then the lockdown, then the eat out to Help Out scheme, then other lockdowns and staged and partial reopening with regulations changing as the year passed.
“But we’ve been more fortunate than some. We have survived. Our loyal and wonderful customers have stood by us and have returned when safe to do so. I’ve always lived by the philosophy of ‘health before wealth’ so I can’t really complain now.”
I asked him about the regulations and how he has adapted his business.
“We of course took advantage of the government schemes, like furlough, to retain as many of our staff as we could and of course, as I said, we started doing takeaways and deliveries but that by itself is not sustainable. We’re just not that kind of a business.
“When Eat Out to Help Out was launched (a government scheme in the summer of 2020 to subsidise early weekday meals in restaurants) it was a mixed blessing.
“Leaving the politics and the science aside on a practical basis we found that we were struggling to cope with demand coupled with socially distancing our table layout Mondays to Wednesdays – a combination of the Eat Out scheme as well as so many working from home or furloughed resulting in the traditional weekend trade drifting into the week. This caused us a few problems but the sort of problems most businesses would like to have, that of making sure we were not forced to turn business away. I guess that’s where you guys came in.”
I asked him why he decided on a marquee.
“We wanted our customers to dine in comfort and despite our name and the wonderfully hot summer we enjoyed we wanted to ensure we were protected against the elements, increase the floorspace we were able to offer and thus increase the number of covers we could serve in a safe way. It really was a no brainer.
UK Tent Marquee Review
“We are lucky to have a large carpark on the property and that made life easier – we invested in one of your top of the range (premium)marques and in the fine warm evenings we were able to roll the ends up, so I guess we were true to our name anyway, sort of.
“It was easy to give the marquee a sense of atmosphere as we ran strings of lights along the metal framework. We laid carpet directly onto the tarmac as well, so it really was a welcoming room.
“When diners rang to make a reservation being able to give them a choice of dining experience actually gave us a bit of a unique selling point. Indeed, we were pleasantly surprised how many diners would actually choose to ‘dine under canvas’ as a preference!”
I asked what happened after the scheme ended and we went into the Tier system.
“I thought that was that. We brought the tent down and packed it away. I thought it could be used in the future it could be used for the odd private party or similar, so it was worth holding on to it – I’m so glad we did in the end because of the way things went this year.”
I asked him about his experience of the last lockdown and the roadmap unlocking.
“Well of course we spent a worrying period of being closed for what seemed like an age but then when the roadmap permitted, we were allowed to reopen but for outdoor dining only.
“The marquee was a godsend, especially as you think of how appalling the weather has been this spring. Whereas many of our rivals have not been able to trade we have protection, but we are still ‘outdoors’ – in terms of covers we’ve been able to serve, its more than paid for itself and I plan to keep it in use throughout the summer and autumn so long as demand is there.”
I asked him how he found us as a company, would he recommend us?
“Put it this way, after I showed my brothers and sister what I had done and the income it has generated the youngest brother and my sister both bought marquees from you. The only reason my other brother didn’t is because his restaurant has no land to put it on.
“I found you guys really easy to talk to, the advice you gave made sense to me and I love the actual marquee – it’s really strong with proper steel frame, not aluminium which I believe can bend and break easier.
“What impressed me was the aftercare. When I asked you how to stop the marquee lifting in the extremely high winds your advice was really effective and easy to follow. I would have no hesitation in recommending you to others in the business.”
I thanked him for taking the time to speak to me and reminded him that he still owes me a coffee.