Hospitality entrepreneurs attract new revenue with £500 ‘save the date’ fees

A specialist wedding catering business has launched a £500 ‘save the date’ deposit that has delivered a rise in bookings and revenues during lockdown.

Marc Hornby jointly owns wedding business Caviar & Chips and the 16th century Virgins and Castle pub in Kenilworth, Warwickshire.

Caviar & Chips, which had built up revenues of around £250,000 a year before the COVID-19 pandemic, has had to postpone all its wedding bookings since 23 March.

Then, after initially being told they could restart on 1 August with small receptions, the business was dealt a further blow when the government delayed the restart until at least mid-August.

Horby explained that Caviar & Chips had to furlough all its staff and that he and co-owner Jonathan Carter-Morris have not paid themselves during lockdown.

But he said they believed that putting the customer first by working with them flexibly to rearrange dates had been the key to overcoming setbacks and surviving.

He said: “At Caviar & Chips, we managed to move everyone to either later this year or 2021 or even 2022. We introduced a small deposit initiative for clients who wanted to book us for next year and the year after. The ‘save the date’ deposit was just £500 and that drove a lot of enquiries.

“The great thing is that people are still planning wedding events for 2021 and 2022 and even later this year. So that definitely helped our cash-flow but, more importantly, kept us in touch with our clients and secured new clients.

“Meanwhile, we started working towards small events happening again from 1 August and did have a few in the diary, but then the government said it needed to extend the guidelines for two weeks.

“The guidance is a bit vague and there are lots of unknowns, but we are constantly asking our clients what would they like to do.

“Thankfully, we were able to furlough the team and Jonathan and I carried on working but weren’t paying ourselves. We also looked at saving expenditure and did get a very small grant from Birmingham City Council.”

Over at the Virgins and Castle pub, the entrepreneurs were forced to close just a week after reopening the venue in March. But they put together a detailed communications plan that kept them in touch with customers and suppliers.

Hornby said: “We started a takeaway service, launched a pub quiz every Tuesday on Facebook, and kept people up to date with menus. We also worked with our brewery, Everards, who were fantastic and stopped charging rents which was enormously helpful.”

Following the easing of lockdown, Virgins and Castle re-opened on 4 July and introduced a breakfast and lunch menu.

Hornby added: “Everything is table service, we have contactless payment, we put teams into bubbles so they don’t come across each other, we have one-in, one-out systems, and one-way traffic.

“A host at the door talks you through it, helps you feel relaxed, and helps you to your table. We’re only at 40% capacity but it’s great to see people coming back and we’re pulling pints again.”

Mark Hart, the professor of small business and entrepreneurship at Aston Business School, said: “I can’t believe how calm Marc sounds. The hospitality sector has been crucified. Things are announced and changed within 24 hours and no business can plan for that kind of uncertainty.

“Marc’s having to react very quickly and he’s still thinking through ways he can continue to generate revenue.

“Businesses in this sector need clearer guidance. This is the type of innovative hospitality business that need to be supported by government at this time.”