How Hospitality SMEs Can Transform Their Finance Department After a Pandemic

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The coronavirus pandemic has been detrimental for the hospitality sector. More people are choosing to stay home to stay safe and to save money in the face of the largest recession since records began. Plus, hotels, licenced venues, and restaurants are subject to tightening restrictions, limiting revenue, and increasing expenditure for safety regulation including staff training and cleaning equipment.

During financial adversity, small market enterprises must re-evaluate their finances. A finance department should recognise areas for increased revenue, saving potential, and forecast potential difficulties in the future.

Here we look at ways in which SMEs in the hospitality sector can reassess their finance department to transform their business.

Financial planning and fiscal control

The pandemic has proved that the hospitality sector must be prepared for every circumstance. Sudden decisions to protect the public are understandable during these adverse times. Most recently, hospitality venues have been restricted by a 10 pm curfew, further reducing footfall in bars and restaurants. This emphasises the importance of financial planning.

It is the expectation that hospitability businesses function on an operating budget. These budgets include the cost of wages, rent, and products. However, with the volatility of 2020, this budget type may not be thoroughly effective. Businesses have had to find additional money for cleaning equipment and staff training.

Borrowing budget templates from other industries may share ideas on how expenses can be saved. For example, zero-based budgets create an optimistic perspective on cost-saving processes. Instead of looking for where cuts can be made, this budget allows finance departments and managers to argue why they should spend. In a zero-based budget, department leaders must justify every expense based on their utility and potential to drive revenue.

According to one survey of businesses that use this approach, a 91 per cent majority met or exceeded their financial targets. The money saved by zero-based budgeting is often reinvested for growth. However, businesses may want to consider saving for future financial adversity, especially considering the pandemic. Each new period requires a new budget, allowing finance departments to understand the effectiveness of each approach and where further investment can be made.

Auditing for your industry

The hospitality sector is the third-largest private-sector employer in the UK. It employs 3.2 million people, producing £130 billion in economic activity and £39 billion in tax for the government. However, it’s important to remember that the sector is broad and variable. Many industries offer different experiences with the unified aim to deliver good entertainment, service, and reception.

But where these industries differ is reflected in their finances, from the expenses to how consumers pay. For example, you may expect a hotel to receive credit card payments more than a restaurant, who may primarily process more debit cards. A licenced bar or pub may accept more cash than the other examples. These differences have a large effect on your finances. As we move towards a cashless society where card payments are more accepted due to their low contact and hygienic nature, it’s important to understand how your finances may be affected.

For example, reviewing that your business pays the correct interchange fees after using VISA or Mastercard processors is a priority. Interchange fees represent 70 to 90 per cent of all fees paid by merchants to banks. For a sector that has relied on cash, it is clear how the pandemic has changed spending habits and how the increase of card payments will affect your finances.

Companies should speak to their audit accountant and get a better sense of the best practices in the sector and what other businesses are paying.  While auditors will not breach other company’s confidentiality, they will be able to aggregate their knowledge of what is going on in the sector and assist you immensely.

Cost control and purchase management

The pandemic has caused a loss in revenue for most sectors in the UK. However, this is especially detrimental to hospitality industries. The gross profit margin of a business in the hospitality sector is usually 30 per cent, making it one of the lowest profit margins compared to other industries. Even industries with lower profit margins, including construction and car sales, can alleviate the low margins with higher gross profit. Hospitality businesses cannot do this.

Therefore, it’s important to understand the balance between a fair cost and a reflective cost for your business’s products or services. While most businesses will want to offer customers a fair price for food and drink, the finance department should identify the true cost of your service. A reflective cost breaks down expenses.

For example, if you were setting rates for a hotel room, consider which processes are used to create your service and how much they cost. This includes:

  • Staff wages for receptionist and cleaners
  • Electricity and water
  • Breakfast services
  • Interchange fee
  • How occupancy is affected during different seasons
  • How it may be impacted by the continuing pandemic

Of course, various other expenses can be uncovered too. But understanding how these costs are reflected in your price makes it easier to maintain a healthy profit margin.

A purchasing manager can help to reduce these costs by ensuring that contracts are effective and reliable. Finance departments should negotiate on your business’s behalf, with a quick understanding of how each contract can affect revenue and profitability. For example, some drink suppliers may provide free glasses but may be more expensive overall than suppliers who don’t. How the cost of glassware affects this profitability should be considered.

With uncertainty mounting over how the hospitality industry can recover from the financial burden of the pandemic, SMEs in the hospitality sector must re-evaluate their finances. They need to assess the most effective ways to increase revenue and profitability. Finance departments can be a useful business partner in creating business strategy, whether they highlight future adversity or give a reflection of current expenditure. Your finance department should at the forefront of your business, guiding it through this difficult period.


Wisteria Accountants (

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