A Ravenstonedale hotel hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic has gained national recognition for its services and is determined to bounce back stronger with a raft of improvements.
Despite being rocked financially over the past 12 months, The Black Swan has used its temporary closure to adapt itself for a COVID-safe reopening which includes self-catering yurts, an upgraded website and a renovated outdoor dining area.
This comes after news that it has been included in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropub Awards 2021. The team will find out their position on the list, compiled by top foodies and hospitality experts, next week.
Louise Dinnes, the owner of 16 years, said: “It’s been really really tough for us.”
Adding that while she had insurance and managed to furlough staff, the Government “wiggled out” of compensating her as the business was deemed to be worth £750 too much to qualify for a grant.
“We’ve just battled through,” she added. “It’s been a long time off and people have struggled a lot more than in the first lockdown. The whole team are just really excited to get going again.”
On April 12, the hotel will reopen its doors to customers with its reimagined outdoor bistro.
The courtyard has been fitted with a heated and lit covering to provide a comfortable dining experience regardless of what the area’s notoriously unpredictable weather has in store.
Head chef Scott Fairweather and his team have also created a new complementary menu.
“It’s a bit different and a bit quirky,” said Scott. “We’re doing a classical simple French bistro style – the sort of food you would eat on a street in Paris.”
Dishes include steak au poivre, a classic bouillabaisse and onion and mushroom tart.
The chef said that crafting this menu had made him “really enjoy cooking again”.
Their most recent acclaim follows a wealth of awards over the years which culminated in being named Britain’s Best Inn 2018 and Cumbria Tourism’s Pub of the Year 2019, although Scott reaffirmed that he doesn’t focus on the prizes.
But this award holds a particular allure for Scott, who has been visiting pubs on the list with his girlfriend for the last five years.
He explained that because the judges are highly respected industry experts, inclusion in the list carries a lot of weight.
“Just to be involved has been a lifelong ambition for me.” Scott added.
“It’s great for the team too who work their socks off. Me and Louise have the vision but every single person works hard to make it happen.”
Boasting an extremely low staff turnover, Louise was keen to highlight the support she gives to her workers.
She provides staff accommodation in the village, regularly checks on their wellbeing and even takes the full team for a yearly getaway when the hotel is quiet in January.
Despite this support, the team’s mental health has suffered over the past year from a lack of purpose and structure.
They have group chats on social media and do the best they can to keep active but the return to normality cannot come fast enough.
“I’m excited if not a little apprehensive,” added Scott, “It’s going to be strange”.
With the hotel unable to take guests until May 17, the new bistro is mainly aimed at locals. residents and Louise has already had a “good amount of bookings”.
Scott added: “I’m itching to get back and get going again.”