A New Hampshire hospitality story
Rebuilding the hospitality sector requires agility, creativity, resourcefulness and moxie
I recently wrote a piece in which I lamented the condition of the hospitality industry as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. As of this writing, the economy is reopening in many places around the country, including in hospitality and in New Hampshire. However, it is also becoming clear there is a correlative rise in Covid infection rates following the reopenings.
Whereas there is strong public sentiment to address both the public health and economic health of the nation and state, finding a satisfactory calibration benefiting both sides simultaneously still appears elusive.
New Hampshire’s economy relies to a significant extent on the hospitality industry, not only to serve the state’s nearly 1.4 million residents, but to provide a backbone for the state’s lucrative tourism sector. Deterioration of hospitality services such as restaurants, hotels, resorts, amusement parks, theaters and sporting venues will negatively impact tourism and the state of New Hampshire’s economy simply cannot afford to have that happen.
Of course, we also cannot tolerate an adverse turnaround in the infection rate given the relatively favorable handling of the epidemic thus far in New Hampshire compared to many locations.
Salvaging and rebuilding hospitality requires a management and employee workforce with agility, creativity and resourcefulness, exercising ingenuity and moxie beyond what has been required during past garden variety economic downturns.
To get a sense of what this determination and imagination looks like on the ground, I had the opportunity to converse with Lexi Townsend, owner of the Corner House Restaurant and Bar in Center Sandwich.
Lexi’s story is not only inspiring, given the range of obstacles with which she was suddenly confronted — coupled with the ongoing originality she has had to muster to keep her business alive — but her situation and responses provide a glimpse into the kind of resilient decision-making required to not only save a business but an industry.
Lexi Townsend is a long-term hospitality professional with restaurant experience that includes work as a server, host, manager and owner.
Most of her career has been in management of fine-dining establishments in both urban and rural settings. Just before Governor Sununu mandated restaurants were to no longer accept on-site patrons in mid-March her chef resigned. After the shutdown order, nearly all of her service staff followed stay-at-home orders from the state government.
Not wanting to close the business, Townsend and one of two remaining employees took on chef duties and facilitated curbside pickup takeout orders from their website’s menu. Knowing many Squam Lake residents were shut in, she offered local area delivery of both bulk and prepared food items. Many of these deliveries were done dockside, giving the service a Lakes Region flavor.
Other events included “Feed the Frontline,” serving care staff from Speare Memorial Hospital and a drive-through Mother’s Day/Memorial Day barbecue involving community volunteers.
Looking ahead to reopening, Lexi knew she needed to rebuild her server team. Offering employment and housing for J-1 visas to foreign nationals was considered, but that is now banned by the president.
Instead, she’s begun piloting a junior service program to train young staff members with limited server experience.
Knowing the importance of safety, comfort and visual communication she has purchased transparent face shields for servers in lieu of masks. The expectation is patrons need to feel not only secure, but also want to be understood and consoled by seeing the faces of their servers.
Overall, Lexi is optimistic for the future of her business. Although her expectation is that once the Paycheck Protection Program is concluded the economy will plunge further, she believes her restaurant’s good reputation and obvious commitment to survival will sustain the business.
Lexi’s advice for her fellow hospitality providers going forward is to persevere above all. Be mindful of changing times, be adaptable and know customers want protection in addition to a rich experience.
Also, understand and accept recovery will take a long time.
No question, these times are a stress test. Working smarter, not just harder, is essential.
Bill Ryan, who writes about career, employment and economic topics from his home in North Sutton, can be reached at email@example.com.