After hundreds of thousands of hospitality businesses stopped trading in April following the start of lockdown, we are slowly starting to see the industry beginning to open its doors and serve customers again thanks to the government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme. But what does this new post-lockdown reality look like?
With social distancing still in place, the number of customers restaurants, cafes, hotels and pubs can legally accommodate has taken a hit. Moreover, with millions of UK workers still on furlough or working from home, the expected footfall in town centres will inevitably be far lower than previously hoped, resulting in a massive blow to the ‘lunchtime economy’.
The government is implementing measures to boost the industry, such as the recent VAT cut from 20% to 5% until 12th January 2021 and the previously mentioned Eat Out To Help Out scheme. However, the industry must also adapt to this situation, making innovative changes to generate revenue during this trying time. Here are three strategies that hospitality businesses of all shapes and sizes can implement to encourage footfall:
1. Leverage outdoor spaces
Space is crucial to keeping your staff and customers safe, as well as ensuring that your trading hours can be as profitable as possible. Utilising outdoor spaces to their full potential must therefore be a priority.
The government has eased restrictions on using car parks and terraces for serving food and drink. Pubs, restaurants and cafes should act fast to make the most of the warmer months by transforming these places into pleasant dining areas. Moving chairs and tables outdoors, buying outdoor plants, providing shelter and hosting live music will help create a winning atmosphere to draw customers through your doors.
Providing excellent customer service will be key to this. The alfresco trend makes it difficult to maintain the same high standards of service when serving large numbers of tables outdoors. Try reducing the number of tables that each waiter is responsible for; you can also help to keep everyone happy by ensuring that every customer can be seen by their waiter (a simple step that’s often overlooked in pub beer gardens). Overall, devising and sticking to an organized table service system will help to keep your customers safe and satisfied, making for the perfect alfresco pub experience.
Another option is offering drive-in facilities for people who may not wish to spend extended periods of time outdoors. Set up a gazebo stand in your car park or side alley that people can drive past and order from. These stands can also be opportunities to share marketing materials with your customers and even upsell them to other products that you offer.
2. Keep in touch with your customers online
With so many of us spending more time indoors, the time we spend on screens has increased significantly. Whether it’s time scrolling through social media, reading the latest online article or online shopping, people are on their phones more than ever before. This represents an opportunity for the industry to keep in touch with clientele and keep them informed of future plans.
Social media can be a great place to publish promotional messaging that incentivizes customers to visit you. People are far less likely to spontaneously visit pubs, restaurants and cafes due to working from home, so it is up to the businesses to find new ways to bring customers through their doors.
Maintaining engagement and keeping the conversation going is essential, which is why digital advertising strategies and embracing tech is more important than ever. Proximity targeting, for example, allows you to target customers in real time using their mobile location data. If a previous customer is nearby, you can advertise to them with a voucher or offer that encourages them to visit.
It is also crucial to update your Google My Business profile to reflect your current operations. Google My Business has added a range of new features since March to give SMEs more flexibility over their opening hours and service offerings, so use these features to give your customers a clear indication of when they can visit your premises and what they can expect to be served there.
3. Follow the government guidelines
Reopening doors does not mean returning to business as usual. The safety of customers and staff is paramount, and business owners must follow the government’s new guidelines to do so.
SMEs who show proactivity and consistency in following the rules will instil confidence in their customer base. This confidence will encourage them to return time and time again - a useful type of customer to have in today’s economy. Below are just a few examples of policies to implement:
- Limit the number of people allowed into the restaurant, pub or cafe with clear markings on the floor for social distancing.
- Use social distancing marking for bathroom queues and encourage a one in, one out rule.
- Introduce single-use paper menus rather than laminated menus.
- Encourage contactless card payments.
- Ask staff to monitor beer gardens to ensure social distancing rules are being followed.
- Ask everyone visiting the venue to leave their contact details in case of an outbreak at your premises.
- Allow guests to contact staff via electronic means, such as emails, phone and apps.
We cannot ignore the reality that the hospitality industry and its customer base has changed; perhaps forever. Flexible working practices are here to stay and those in the hospitality business can no longer rely on commuters and shoppers to visit premises on their own accord.
Yet there is still hope. The traditional customer base has not disappeared - it is simply harder to reach. Business owners need to incentivize people to visit pubs, cafes and restaurants by providing safe and enjoyable experiences outside the home, and marketing this to them at every possible opportunity. This industry is full of innovators and forward-thinkers; now is the time to prove it.
About the Author
Craig Pannozzo is the sales executive at Gazeboshop, a leading UK supplier of gazebos and marquees. Since its beginnings in 2005, the company has helped thousands of SMEs prepare their stands for indoor and outdoor events. Most recently Craig has supported businesses wanting to build outdoor spaces at pubs, bars and cafes.