Opinion piece from Nick Tearle, MD of E1Media (www.e1ma.co.uk)
As the UK begins to tentatively reopen and emerge from its hiberna- tion thanks to lockdown restrictions lifting, hospi- tality businesses are faced with their biggest challenge yet. Dubbed Super Saturday, scenes from the weekend proved the nation’s des- peration to return to their much-loved local pubs and restaurants. But the shifting sands of reg-
ulations and advice mean that opening up was just the first hurdle.The coming months will require a constant evolution to meet changing rules and satisfy demands as we move forward.
For restaurants, pubs, bars and other hospitality venues, challenges will be centred around instilling a renewed sense of confidence in the safety of eating out.Yet, whilst this is of vital importance, there’s a fine balance to ensuring we don’t let safety measures heavily (and negatively) impact the overall dining experience and the nation’s much-loved habit of eating and drinking out.
It’s important to also remember that everyone has a different level of ‘C19-comfort’. Some customers may be fine with physical contact, oth- ers might be shielding or within a support bubble. It’s vital to be in con- stant communication with your audience, both in-store and online to help evaluate consumer confidence and respond accordingly.
The updated lockdown rules are a massive boost to a large portion of the hospitality industry, which has been severely crippled by the pandem- ic. Right now, it’s important for businesses to encourage the return of customers, but without causing the same unappealing and unmanageable queuing the retail industry has suffered from over the last few weeks.
Although some bars and restaurants have continued trading via takeaway and delivery services, most of their revenue comes from visits to the premises. Business models will have to be adapted in order to meet demands and align with new rules.
But despite the loosening of restrictions, we are still amidst a pandem- ic, and it’s not over.The way businesses operate moving forward will not be the same as pre-lockdown. So, there are some key points that need to be considered.
KEEPING CUSTOMERS SEATED – THE RISE OF HOSPITALITY TECH
To minimise social contact, new regulations dictate that patrons are not allowed to order at the bar or stand around the premises.The gov- ernment has also instructed bars and restaurants to collect the contact information of guests in order to help with their ‘test-and-trace’ efforts. Having an online ordering system could resolve both these issues. Brands that don’t already use an app to help with ordering, should look to build one as soon as possible, or use a third-party service. More and more pubs and restaurants will be turning to new technology in order to keep staff and customers safe.
When Wetherspoons introduced their ordering app over three years ago, reactions were mixed. Some traditionalists felt attached to the expe- rience of standing and ordering at the bar, whilst others were happy to have an easy way of avoiding the queues. However, as we are now faced with little choice – these apps may just be the perfect answer.This more efficient method of taking orders will free up valuable time for serving staff, so they can focus on maintaining a clean and safe environment.
PREMISES REMAINING ‘COVID-SECURE’
The government is providing plenty of guidance to help businesses become ‘Covid-secure’.These include small changes like providing hand sanitizer on entry as well as bigger implementations like encouraging contactless card payment.The social distancing guidelines have also relaxed from 2-metres to 1-metre plus.Whilst the recommended dis- tance is still 2-metres, for many businesses this is simply not manageable
or profitable.To better control the flow of people throughout the day, the implementation of pre-booking and time slots where possible will help create a streamlined process.
Every business will have slightly different social distancing guidelines, and these should be clearly communicated to customers.
Scientists generally agree that being in an open-air environment decreases the risk of transmission.That’s why the government is intro- ducing changes that make it easier for businesses to trade outdoors.This includes temporarily changing laws to allow more licensed bars and restaurants to sell alcohol for off-site consumption.The cost of the licensing process for outdoor seating and stalls is also being reduced – great news if your premises is located next to a park or public space.
Pubs and restaurants will also be able to use car parks and terraces as dining and drinking areas, using their existing seating licenses. Now is definitely the time to make the most of your surrounding outdoor space – especially if your premises are on the smaller side.
Although businesses have much more flexibility around how you can serve customers, they should still actively encourage and incentive take- away orders. Not only is this safer, but it frees up vital indoor and out- door space for additional customers.
It’s safe to say that the changes announced are a real boost to hospitality businesses, particularly pubs and restaurants.These decisions are reflective of the ‘feel-good’ messaging present by the government in recent times.Although the 4th July saw us take a step back into normality, business need to operate with caution – as we are still navigating a pandemic.
We await to see what the government has to say regarding the re- opening of nightclubs, live music venues and theatres.These have largely been forgotten so far, despite their numerous social, cultural and economic contributions to society It will be interesting to see where the hospitality industry goes from here.