Next in the Gear up to Grow series, CEO of Baa Bar Limited, Elaine Clarke, reflects on her three-decade career in the hospitality industry and the importance of supporting the safety and well-being of her team.
Elaine Clarke – CEO of Baa Bar Limited
I’ve been in the hospitality industry for over 30 years and during my career I have certainly had my fair share of challenges.
From the daily challenge that comes with being a woman, operating at one time 13 bars and clubs across the North, to navigating the financial crash of 2008, I would say I am certainly a seasoned operator.
Like everyone else in the world, the global Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t something we planned for.  We witnessed the response to the pandemic in other countries as bars and restaurants shut-up shop, and then had to face the reality, over the weeks leading up to UK lockdown, that we would have to close our five sites.
Whilst we were aware that we would have to close in-line with government policy, we still had no idea what financial support would be in place to prop up our  business. I’ve got to say it has been a frightening time. The people in my business are so important to me and my top priority was always to do the right thing by them and offer job assurances even before we understood what security the furlough scheme would give to us.
The reality of closing the doors on a business that has operated 7 days a week for almost 30 years is that there is suddenly very little to do operationally and instead a lot of thinking time.  I felt this acutely, not knowing what to do with myself and feeling quite low.  I was aware that my team members might be feeling the same so my energy and efforts were focused on the team’s mental health and wellbeing.
Since lockdown, I have sent weekly newsletters to every single person in our business.  Transparency and communication was vital during this time.
In my initial communication, I made sure every person felt reassured and secure in their job and that they knew their wages would still land that week.
There was a lot of panic in the media with some local and national companies announcing redundancies or a pause on pay.  We were always clear that we would look after our people no matter what and this was the overriding message to my teams.  I encouraged the team to enjoy furlough, relax, look after themselves; for many of them this is the first time they have had a bank holiday weekend off never mind weeks and weeks of time to themselves.
While my business partner heads up the finance function of our business, my role is very much on the operations and people side.
In my weekly updates, I made it a priority to talk about mental health and, where possible, signpost my team to any support that they could access.  We have an employee benefits scheme in place that offers a mental health phoneline which I made sure the team were aware of.
I appointed a yoga instructor to deliver weekly relaxation yoga classes through Zoom, again reminding the team of the importance of looking after their health and wellbeing.
We made a hardship fund available to any team members who were struggling financially, we requested our managers keep in touch and make recommendations to us about employees who might need this.  We also made mine and my business partners mobile numbers available to our 130 team members so they had a direct line if needed.
Personally, I think this has been a time for me to reflect and re-balance.  I have pushed myself to walk every day, have looked after my nutrition, drank less alcohol and paid attention to my own mental health by practicing meditation.
Now we are looking forward to opening up our doors again.  Once again, we have the safety and wellbeing of our team members and customers at the forefront of our minds.  We are making sure that all our teams are consulted with regards to their safe return to work, we are carrying out full risk assessments and implementing new digital solutions to allow for socially distanced customer service.
I think the most important thing to do is to take learning from this experience.  I certainly feel a sense of gratitude to the City of Liverpool. I have loved seeing businesses and people rally together to support each other and, with that in mind, I have shared with several other operators our templates and project plans to support their creation of  reopening Covid-19 handbooks, as I know it’s hard to see the wood for the trees when the world is changing so much.
I am looking forward to opening up again now and welcoming our fantastic team and customers back through our doors.
We are all determined to find our way through this and open again successfully and my message to our loyal customers is that we can’t wait to see you again and please be kind and patient  with us as we adjust to this new way of delivering our service to you.
Looking for help to grow or adapt your business? For more information about the support available through The Women’s Organisation to help you and your business, please contact us via e-mail at if you’re based in the Liverpool City Region.