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Cutting back 

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Jason Ford, manager at Ocean Catch Fish Bar

Jason Ford, manager at Ocean Catch Fish Bar in Bristol, has reduced his takeaway’s opening hours, introduced a click and collect service and cut down on the volume of stock he holds in a bid to cut costs and improve efficiency 

I first started in fish and chips when I was 17 and after about five or six years I left to go into retail as the hours suited me better, what with having a young family.

About five years ago, I made the decision to come back into the trade, now the kids are grown up and the pressures on my time aren’t quite so demanding. And what a few years it has been! We’ve had the highs of the pandemic when the shop was crazy busy – few places were open so if people wanted food they came to their local chippy – and VAT was at 5%. Now we’re facing the toughest time I would think anyone in the industry has seen. 

We’ve already reduced our opening hours down to Monday to Saturday 5pm-9pm and only three lunchtimes a week. Staff-wise I can’t see that we can make any changes as we are busy during those hours so we need everyone we have. We have just tried out a new online click and collect ordering system called Swift Order, which is enabling staff to serve rather than being tied up taking phone orders. That’s working quite well.

Thankfully prices have started to level off – by that I mean they aren’t rising. Palm oil has stabilised so we’ve started buying in bulk, getting 10 boxes for £25 each – it used to be £30 so that’s a saving. We’ve heard nothing about price increases on fish for a while so that’s good, but it’s still going to be a big old battle for us for a few years unless prices start coming down soon. 

I’m just being careful with what I’m buying and not holding as much stock as I used to. And while I’m trying to keep with the same suppliers, I have started to look at alternatives if it’s a little bit cheaper but the quality is the same. 

On average, our costs have gone up by 40% and trade has gone down by about 30% because everyone has been able to go away on holiday this year. 

Late last month, I had the opportunity to talk about my concerns and the pressures facing our industry when I was interviewed by the BBC for its Points West segment. 

Hopefully, we get some help from the government soon, even if it’s just a little bit of help, it will be very much appreciated in this industry. Fish and chips have been around for too long to lose. Unfortunately, we’ve seen it with pubs, there used to be three in this village, now there is one. We can’t let fish and chips go the same way, it’s part of our history, our culture and our upbringing. 

Friday night should be all about having a chippy tea and is something we want to pass on to our kids and then to their kids and on it goes. 

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