Professional Comment

Driving Footfall – What The Hospitality Industry Can Be Doing To Encourage More People To Eat Out

Despite Covid restrictions having been lifted across the hospitality sector, and business returning to normal for many bars and restaurants, the industry is still facing immense challenges.

Cost of living is at an all-time high, meaning some families are less willing – or unable – to eat-out as often as they once did. As a consequence, footfall in once-busy restaurants and bars is set to stagnate, resulting in reduced revenue and many businesses struggling to stay afloat.

However, Managing Director at Thai Leisure Group, Ian Leigh, believes there are things businesses can do to encourage diners to eat out this summer, which will in turn drive footfall.

1. Prioritise recruitment for an enhanced customer experience
Quality recruitment is everything in the hospitality sector. Since the pandemic, many staff have found work elsewhere or even left the country. Responding in panic, many restaurants and bars have been forced to recruit underqualified staff in order to simply fill in the gaps and put numbers on the restaurant floor. This may be a short-term fix, but it is not a long-term solution as quick and poor recruitment will most likely lead to problems down the line, including a higher staff turnover.

To encourage customers to return, hospitality leaders should ensure each member of staff encompasses the company values and gives the customer a reason to come back. Skilled and friendly staff who are value-aligned, will mean less staff turnover and happier patrons. Yes, this may mean spending more money and working harder to find and recruit the right people, but it will certainly be worthwhile in the long-term.

2. Outdoor dining and drinking
If the pandemic showed us anything, it’s that Brits love to eat and drink outdoors, providing the environment is right. It is therefore vital to not neglect this aspect of dining, and consider extending or enhancing your outdoor seating beyond the need of restrictions. For some businesses of course, this may not be logistically possible, however, those with the capability of opening or expanding their alfresco offering should do so.

With the warmer, summer months just around the corner, having an outdoor dining offering will set you apart from competition. If designed correctly, the space can also be utilised during the winter months in order to maximise the investment. For example, we extended a series of our outdoor spaces at our Chaophraya sites over the pandemic, with the intension to utilise them as a summer garden as well as a cosy, winter grotto later in the year. Eventually, this becomes something diners recognise the restaurant for, causing them to return all year round.

3. Adapt/evolve your menu offering
All too often, restaurant owners and bar staff point the finger externally for why revenue may be struggling. However, the core problem may just start with what food and drink your customers are presented with.

Start by surveying and collecting feedback on your menu offering from diners, you may be surprised to find some foods and drinks, at the very least, are more popular than others. It is therefore important to continue to evolve, adapt, improve and add to your menu, to ensure an increasingly positive reception to food and drink to even the most loyal customers. This may start with simply introducing a new cocktail, or something more extreme like a full menu overhaul. Collect the feedback and implement the right changes to ensure your restaurant is giving its customers top-quality food in-line with the company brand.

4. Bring an element of theatre to the table
As the cost of living continues to increase, people will inevitably be more selective with their spends. However, when they do dine out, they will reserve this special occasion for a bar or restaurant considered ‘special’ to them. It’s up to businesses to try and grow the customer’s experience if they want to be considered one of the few, special venues for when people do decide to visit a bar or restaurant.

To do this, restaurants should consider bringing an element of theatre to the table. This could include sizzling hot plates or cooking masterclasses , so visitors can get the visual and learning experience when dining out, not just a meal.

It is also a great option to offer private dining rooms and intimate guest areas, so that customers have the option to upgrade their experience for birthdays, corporate meetings or family get-togethers. Anything you can do to upgrade the feeling of joy and excitement upon stepping through a restaurant doors, you should