Hospitality industry in Cowbridge continues to thrive despite staff shortages

Pubs and restaurants in the town share how they have adapted to survive after Covid

LOCAL businesses in Cowbridge are still facing the impact of Covid regulations nearly two years after the pandemic.

The hospitality industry has taken a major hit with problems ranging from Covid setbacks to labour shortages.  The CGA Businesses Confidence Survey (2021), expects that there will be a 73% staff shortage across the industry by the end of the year.

As a result, three in four businesses have offered better pay and high levels of communication to increase staff retention. 

Image: Marcelo Ikeda Tchelão 

Freddie Hitchcock, 34, is the Operations Director for The Town and Country Collective, which is a family-run collective of hotels, restaurants, catering and affiliated venues across South East Wales. The company runs The Bear Hotel, The Penny Farthing and Oscars in Cowbridge. 

Mr Hitchcock said: “It’s certainly been a challenge since re-opening. Luckily, we have retained most of our team members and our regular customers.

“Where we have had to fill roles, we can’t sugar coat it, it has been a challenge. The short-term effects of the staff shortages in the industry are that wage levels have had to rise; however, this can only be a positive for our industry going forward as we compete for talent.

“We continue to operate as close to normal opening hours as possible. However, the Covid restrictions have meant that we have had to change a lot of our working practices and the way we operate. This has impacted on the capacity we have to open and operate safely.”

The Bear is now serving their guests breakfast at the Penny Farthing to ensure that the staff are not overworked. Meanwhile, Oscars is still closed but has plans to open “when the time is right,” according to Mr Hitchcock. 

The Bear Hotel, Oscars and The Penny Farthing (Image: Angharad Thomas)

Blair Malins, 49, the manager of the Duke of Wellington pub, shared his concerns on independents being able to afford higher wages.

He said: “At the moment, we’re only able to pay our staff a living-wage and it’s been hard to compete with businesses who are able to afford more.

“We’re struggling to fill a chef’s position. This could be due to many things: the long working hours, us being in a rural area and competing with employment in the city.

“However, we continue to open our doors seven days a week and most of our staff have stayed with us; we’ve even employed more people for the Christmas period.”

Although, since hospitality has been able to reopen, many businesses in Cowbridge are thriving.

Rocket & Rye and Elephant & Bun Deli (Image: Angharad Thomas)

Rocket & Rye has seen a successful four months since opening its doors in summer.

“At the start everyone was nervous to open, as it was the unknown of what was going to happen with Covid. But Rocket & Rye followed procedures which made us feel safe.  Everything was social distanced, and staff didn’t have to serve customers at the table if they didn’t want to, as everything was accessible via QR codes,” said Elle Wright, 21, a waitress at Rocket & Rye. 

She added: “I live locally so this job suited me well. I like what the restaurant has to offer, as they support local businesses by selling local produce.”

Other high-street businesses have succeeded due to community support over lockdown.

Family business Elephant & Bun Delicatessen, which has been in Cowbridge for the last nine years, shared how they had to open their doors seven days a week to keep up with demand. 

Owner Jack Farrington, 32, said: “When we first opened up, we were restricted with staffing, to ensure we were keeping them safe.  We were very lucky that the majority of our staff stayed with us. 

“During lockdown we were the only independent allowed to open on the high-street. I think because people could only be local, they became very supportive on the high-street. So, we had to adapt to suit our customers’ needs and opened a lunchtime menu, which people loved as they were working at home.”