By Kam Phullar, Lead Strategist at Feed Agency (www.feed.xyz)
Few sectors have escaped the adverse consequences of the coronavirus pandemic but there’s no denying some have felt its dreadful force more than others – hospitality being one.
And as the third-largest employment sector in the UK – with 3.2m people working in restaurants, pubs and hotels – that is a large swath of the population currently anxious about the future of their businesses and jobs.
For an industry heavily reliant on in-person, location-specific experiences, the coronavirus-induced rapid move to online commerce has been confounding.An IBM report recently showed that COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to digital shopping by roughly five years.
But rather than being dejected by this changed behaviour, for the hospitality sector this could be a prime opportunity to innovate and get ahead of the curve – to deliver a level of customer experience we’ve been organically heading towards.
Though the conventional idea of hospitality focuses on people being in an environment where they can enjoy the company of others, eat, relax and unwind, trends pre-lockdown were pointing towards needing to take the experience to the customer – specifically by using delivery and courier services.
For the pub, both a challenge and a potential USP is its products. Drinkers accept that alcohol from a pub will be at a premium because they’re willing to pay for the opportunity to meet in a convivial environment. However, during lockdown many of the larger alcohol brands have pushed their off-trade offering (multi-packs and flavour innovations) to inspire those in supermarkets looking to fill a gap.
Where pubs can win is by using their relationships with breweries to widen their product offerings to offer mixology and exploration pack- ages for customers. Some pubs are already catching onto this idea, building on their more distinct and unique products, by offering DIY cocktail care packages that off licences and retail stores can’t replicate.
Another deliverable service could be the classic pub lunch and Sunday roast. Pubs are famous for their carveries, which could offer a way to up-sell a meal experience with curated wines, beers and spirits – help- ing make enjoyable family or friend experiences within singular house- holds.
Similar to pubs, people gravitate to restaurants because of their atmosphere, views and sometimes entertainment. However, in recent years the rise of services like UberEats has been underlining people’s desire to eat together, while selecting their own meal options.
Food delivery services are offering a critical service as a result of COVID-19, and interestingly they are making moves from impulse and occasion, towards regular and every-day. Even supermarkets have found a logistics lifeline – Aldi, Lidl and M&S Foods are all featuring in apps like Deliveroo, UberEats and JustEat.
Innovations like dining experiences, diet-based and meal-prep are ways restaurants can turn impulse eating into more regular spending habits using delivery services.And we could soon see subscription models being offered, to make restaurant food more accessible and better able to compete with supermarket ready meals.
The logistics of the best way of entering the delivery market will differ across establishments and will come down to individual circumstances. For some restaurants, partnering with the in-app delivery services may make sense, but larger operations may see value in hiring their own fleet.
Of all the different businesses within the hospitality sector, hotels across the country may potentially have the most room to innovate, and depending on the services they offer, they could consider side avenues outside of traditional room hire.
Spa services could offer care packages for at-home wellbeing, especially when paired with online gym or yoga classes – creating a perfect gift option as we move towards the holiday season. But also, the more practical services like dry cleaning and handy-persons could be white- labelled and listed as new business ventures.
And finally, similar to pubs and restaurants, they could introduce catering initiatives that could help new customers access food from prize winning chefs.
These are extremely challenging times for the hospitality sector, but delivery services combined with innovation and some left-field thinking offer genuine opportunities. Ones that will keep businesses afloat and give customers leading much more restricted lives some welcome variety and joy, while their out-of-home lives are limited.