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Winning consumer confidence when hospitality returns

It’s been a tough few months and the end could be in sight with the gradual easing of restrictions from 4th July.

For many, the loss of a social life has been hard to bear. No pubs, bars, restaurants, trips away, hotel stays or holidays but the news that hospitality businesses might gradually re-open from 4th July has been met with enthusiasm.

There’s still some way to go but businesses are already gearing up for a strong and swift return and welcoming customers back.  With that in mind Caterer.com asked 2,000 consumers how they felt about hospitality reopening and if they would be supporting their local pubs, bars and restaurants.

Consumers keen to return once restrictions are eased

We spoke to Tim Foster, Director and Head of Awesomeness at Yummy Pubs and started by sharing the news from our research that almost a third of UK consumers, rising to over 50% in London, are planning to go to the pub within the first week of opening.

“That’s great news for the industry as we’re all trying to get a flavour of what customer expectations will be once we reopen.  Yummy hasn’t really closed as we’ve pivoted to provide a click & collect services and meals for the homeless from our London sites.”

 

Learning from others during lockdown

Tim continued, “We’ve been watching what’s been happening in other countries to see how they are coming out of lockdown and learning from them. Now is the time to tell consumers what the hospitality industry has been doing behind the scenes to get ready for the easing of restrictions and how hard everyone is working to achieve those aims.

We’ve been retraining all our people from scratch, revisiting all our courses and by the time we hit 4th July our entire team will have been retrained in Levels 1 and 2 together with a specific COVID-19 course.  We’ve been using video conferencing to train our teams for over two years now so we’re all pretty familiar with video technology.”

Consumer confidence will be key

Looking at the economic picture, Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive from UKHospitality commented: “Consumer confidence is going to be key once businesses begin to reopen. It is going to be a long, hard road back to normality and venues are going to need the support of their communities. It is encouraging to see that so many people are eager to support hospitality in their communities as soon as possible. It highlights what a fantastic social asset these businesses are and the great work our sector does all around the country.”

Interestingly, our Caterer.com research showed that two thirds (67%) of consumers think the government should help support hospitality businesses that need it in order to survive. Several initiatives are currently being driven by industry bodies including Hospitality Union’s #NationalTimeOut campaign, asking for a nine-month rent free period and UKHospitality’s six-point plan to help hospitality recover.

Paying a premium for social distancing

Reopening pubs cafes and bars will be a slow process as the industry finds its new normal.   Confidence in the sector’s ability to provide a safe environment is paramount.  As our survey revealed, we know consumers are keen to support the industry with 40%* prepared to pay a premium in venues with enhanced social distancing practices.

“Niche brands will do well as restrictions are eased.  Everyone in the sector has got to give consumers total confidence that our standards are exceptional. It’s been interesting watching the retail sector’s approach to the pandemic and there are obvious challenges that hospitality will have which are very different” says Tim Foster.

The moral aspects of reopening hospitality

Hospitality has a moral duty of care to people, whether they are a customer or an employee. Health and safety has always had that element and as the sector starts to prepare for a strong return, the moral aspects of keeping everyone safe will be heightened.  The media will also be watching, closely, to find any transgressors and make them public.

Tim Foster further comments “Going forward, everything will be about honesty and transparency – before, during and after a visit to a pub, bar or restaurant.  Hospitality has to manage its way through reopening and consumers have their part to play too with a responsibility not to visit a venue if they are sick.”

Why employer brand matters to consumers

During COVID-19 the hospitality sector has featured in the news cycle with both good and not so good stories.  Consumers will remember LEON, Brewdog, Yummy and others who have earned respect for their brands through their actions.

Our research showed that customers have also been doing what they can to help local hospitality businesses that were forced to close during lockdown by buying takeaways food parcels and gift vouchers, spending £11.7m.  And in an overwhelming vote of confidence, 3.6m people have already started booking their Christmas party or meal out to help hospitality businesses bounce back, stronger than ever.

Tim Foster’s Top Tips for reopening hospitality

  1. Transparency in all aspects of the sector is vital. Consumers will be looking for brands to engage with that make them feel safe and confident when choosing them
  2. Forward planning – if you haven’t already started, implement a retraining programme that counts down to your reopening
  3. Communicate – build your social following as this is where people are engaging during lockdown. Tell your customers what you are doing behind the scenes to make sure they are going to have a safe and enjoyable experience with you.
  4. Adapt your offering to meet the market – walk in trade could be a thing of the past so online advance bookings, extended dining hours, work/life balance, consumer demand, may all change so your offering should too.

Other suggestions customers in our survey shared to help make them feel comfortable to return to hospitality businesses include:

 

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