We’ve entered a new period of dining out. The pandemic has transformed the eating and drinking out landscape and the industry has put in phenomenal effort, innovation and creativity to encourage people back into restaurants, pubs and bars, writes Sheniz Ozdemir. From completely adapting venues, introducing new procedures, menus and service styles, the industry is trying to get back on its feet, fast.
Is eating out helping out?
Schemes such as Eat Out to Help Out are playing a critical part in helping to boost the sector, encouraging people back into venues and to spend with hard-hit hospitality firms. Government figures show more than 73,000 restaurants have signed up, with UKHospitality reporting that 93% of eligible businesses are involved.
Many people would have had their income negatively affected so anything that encourages them to come out to spend and that offers good value for money is to be welcomed. With the Government covering half of the bill during the first half of the week, it has been reported that diners used the eat out discount 10.5 million times – proving its popularity and value to business owners. Many restaurants and pubs have enjoyed a much-needed uplift in guests and sales; figures from our client Fourth showed overall sales were up 50% between Monday and Wednesday in the opening week of the scheme when compared with the previous week.
There has been a question of whether the scheme will negatively impact weekend trading, however many operators have reported that’s not the case and sales remain robust across Thursday to Sunday. How will the sector fare come September once the scheme ends? That will be one to watch.
Slowly but surely, consumer confidence it starting to return and has risen for the first time since February, according to the latest YouGov figures.
Comfort and communication
The vast majority of people feel comfortable with returning to hospitality venues (CGA research shows that 95%+ of people that have come out feel comfortable once they are in venue) and have embraced being back together with friends and family. However, those who still remain nervous need to see how venues are operating safely – with hygiene remaining paramount. Whether that be by social media, digital communications or by word of mouth, businesses must communicate and demonstrate to customers how they are working hard to operate safely.
Hospitality is and always has been the definition of friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests. And it is not an easy task to maintain the same level of experience whilst operating under strict guidelines, for example lowering music – in fact, this is probably one of the biggest challenges many operators face. But it is important to enforce these safety rules whilst ensuring people are able to enjoy the dining out experience that they have massively missed. Our client Arc Inspirations introduced a Customer Charter outlining all measures it was introducing ahead of reopening – so customers knew what to expect and what their experience in venue was going to be like.
Help and support
After months of lockdown, many operators were struggling to prepare ahead of reopening. Our client Diageo launched an initiative to support pubs and bars through its £30million Raising the Bar programme, providing practical help and support to pubs and bars as they prepared to open their doors again. As well as expert advice, operators had the opportunity to sign themselves up online with the chance to receive permanent and high-quality hand sanitiser units to use in venues, and a basic hygiene kit containing PPE masks and gloves. Not only this, but also a kit containing recyclable and environmentally friendly takeaway drinks solutions (as the use of plastic and disposable containers are on the up), the education and tools to support recycling and bespoke mobile bar and order and payment solutions.
The role of technology
Tech has been one of the most vital tools to help venues reopen safely and efficiently. Mobile ordering and payment – something we use to grab a coffee, but never usually when we dine out, is seemingly becoming the norm. Many leading restaurants and pub groups have signed up to ‘super app’ OrderPay, which automatically identifies where customers are sat in a venue, facilitating easy ordering and table service and minimising person-to-person contact. Its ‘Tap and Go’ functionality means operators can also offer customers a self-service solution and helps reduce queueing.
Hospitality is a highly regulated industry that is used to working to very high standards, under pressure and putting the customer first – a huge amount of hard work and dedication has been demonstrated to preserve an industry that we all love. While there are many challenges to come and the sector needs further support from the Government, in particular in solving the looming rent issue to ensure businesses can continue to trade, we are seeing signs of a welcome bounce back.