Building Better Long-Term Customer 8 CLH Digital Issue 20 Relationships Beyond ‘Eat Out to Help Out’

By Danilo Mangano, General Manager, Europe at SevenRooms (www.sevenrooms.com)

After standing empty for more than three months, the sight of diners and drinkers once again gracing the tables of Britain’s bars, cafes, pubs and restaurants is a welcome one. Even with effective capacity limitations in place due to social distancing measures, many venues are now also seeing a welcome boost in their Monday to Wednesday trade thanks to the introduction of the government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, running until the end of August.

Recent figures from the UK Treasury revealed that over 10.5 million discounted meals were claimed under the scheme across 22,000 venues in the first week of August alone. Considering reports that around 80% of UK hospitality firms had halted trading in April this year, these figures are certainly a positive indicator of recovery. And with more than 80,000 outlets across the country signed up to the initiative, the numbers indicate that we could also see significant further increases in the coming weeks.The British public, it seems, definitely see discounted food and drink as their cup of tea.

But while the scheme has been effective in boosting trade and sup- porting hospitality venues at a time when they need it most, operators must also be mindful of their longer-term strategies once it concludes. Without the right strategy in place for the post-promotion period, diners could get a taste for reduced prices alongside the food and fail to return to these restaurants when the discount no longer applies.

Fortunately,‘Eat Out to Help Out’ presents venues with a great oppor- tunity to foster long-term, direct relationships with new and existing customers by giving operators the chance to capture and utilise guest data effectively in the future.

The discount scheme has helped operators to achieve the first part of a broader reopening strategy – namely, bringing guests back in through the doors. It has been pivotal in helping restaurants reconnect with their regulars and encourage new visitors to try them out. But the battle for bookings is not won with a single visit. Successful long-term operator strategies rely on building guest loyalty – and this is where capturing and leveraging customer data is key. Many venues already capture guest data – be it through waitlists or online reservations.The next step is going beyond the basics of data capture, leveraging a guest experience plat- form that enables operators to not only capture and store this data, but seamlessly surface it at the right time to provide their guests with best- in-class dining experiences.

Smart operators know that not only is data present at each stage of the customer journey, but also that each data point tells them something new about a guest’s experience. Recognising that a customer loves a cer- tain dish, that they have dietary restrictions or a severe allergy, or that they are partial to prosecco is not just a ‘nice to know’ for operators. These insights are critical to understanding why guests have chosen their venue, how they can tailor future guest experiences, and whether there are relevant and bespoke promotions that will encourage them to return in the future.

Capturing and leveraging data enables greater loyalty in the long run. If guests have had a positive experience with a particular venue, they’re likely to have a positive response to a marketing email promoting some- thing special based on what they have previously ordered and enjoyed.

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Through personalised special offers that resonate, outlets can also avoid falling into the ‘endless voucher’ trap, where diners return more for the discount than they do for the experience.This is true for off-premise customers, too. If a guest has a regular takeaway or delivery order, restaurants can surface specific promotions – like offering their favourite bruschetta starter complimentary – that are more likely to whet their appetite than a generic discount.

In this new era of hospitality, repeat visits matter more than ever. Operators are dealing with uncertainty over COVID-19 and potential reclosures, and need to look more critically at the systems they have in place to ensure they’re able to leverage their customer database when they need it most. Across the UK, operators have incorporated govern- ment-mandated social distancing and reduced capacity measures.With fewer guests able to visit in-person, hospitality operators should be doing everything they can to get repeat customers through their doors. This is why capturing guest data is so important to help enhance mar- keting efforts. Studies show that it is up to seven times more expensive to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one. By leveraging data captured both on-site and through takeaway, operators can boost rev- enue and, most importantly, provide the types of experiences that will keep guests coming back time and time again.

With the hospitality industry so heavily impacted by COVID-19, the temptation for operators to think about short-term survival might be strong. But UK restaurants must look to leverage ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ and other incentives to their own benefit, using them as an opportunity to build a strong, better business and set themselves up for sustainable success in the future.As long as restaurants remain GDPR-compliant, data is the key to converting those first-time diners into loyal customers. By empowering operators to do what they do best, data enables them to reopen – and rebuild – with confidence.