By Victoria Searl, hospitality expert and Founder of DataHawks (www.wearedatahawks.com). DataHawks is a disruptive hospitality marketing business that analyses data to identify and profile the most valuable customer to its clients – forming the basis of an often business changing acquisition, conversion and retention strategy.

Whether a fresh round of Eat Out to Help Out, the perfect run of warm summer days, or the much-anticipated rush of Christmas bookings – which increasingly never seems to happen – operators are always hoping to be on the kind end of some sort of divine (and revenue driving) intervention.

The latest is the notion of the new ‘roaring 20’s – an idea gaining momentum fuelled by an interest in consumer behaviour following the last major pandemic 100 years ago.

While the first ‘roaring 20’s’ was marked by significant social, economic, technological and cultural change, the modern ‘roaring 20’s’ will be marked by vaccinated revellers, dancing in the streets with 3 pints of craft ale in one hand and a 7-course tasting menu in the other. I suspect the modern ‘roaring 20’s’ may only last a short time as the economic realities of a post-pandemic UK kick in.

So, with the sentiment that all parties have to end sometime, it feels increasingly important that operators look beyond this period to make sure their ‘roaring 20’s’ doesn’t become a ‘great depression’.

Being at the mercy of uncontrollable variables seems to be where hospitality operators think they should be but having a business at the mercy of anything is not a good place to be.The answer is clear. Operators need to take control of their businesses and be able to operate successfully – whatever the whims of the economy, the weather or the performance of our national sports teams.

With over 27 years’ experience working in the industry, from pulling pints to board level decision making for restaurant groups, the answer to how operators take back control became abundantly clear to me and needs sharing now more than ever: Data.

We now live in the era of personalisation. Long before COVID-19 ravaged our sector, hospitality had already changed forever.

The 90’s were all about innovation and choice, with a boom of exciting new brands from grab and go to high end casual dining.The 00’s brought a shift to online, where websites enabled the customer to decide, almost in real-time, where to place their spend.Then the birth of social, particularly Instagram in 2010 powered the era of the ‘experience economy’. Customers wanted to eat and drink, but they wanted it with bells on.

But the millennials who drove the ‘experience economy’ are now turning 40, and Gen Z are setting the agenda. Like groups before them, they still want to eat, drink and have fun – but like everything else in their lives, they want it entirely on their own terms. And when you consider that 40% of the out of home market fall into the Gen Z category, not including the older groups they influence and are part of, this is a group no hospitality brand can afford to lose.

And it’s not just Gen Z who benefit from personalisation – all age groups respond to personalised and relevant communications and experiences.

This leaves us with an obvious new reality – brands who do not get to know their most valuable customers in intimate detail (and act on that knowledge), will lose them to brands who do.

By collecting your customer data to identify and profile your most valuable customers, then leveraging it to power everything from your SEO to CRM, you can build, maintain and grow a solid group of loyal customers – and know actually which levers to pull to drive the behaviour you need at any given time – with the lowest cash outlay and the highest ROI.

Your marketing activity will feel less like desperately throwing more liquid into the top of a very large and leaky bucket, and more like a gentle afternoon in the park conducting the Royal Philharmonic.

So, when the post-COVID-19 rush happens, my advice would be don’t get carried away on a false wave of optimism. Use it as a focused exercise in data capture because when things start to go back to ‘normal’, and the country comes to terms with who is going to have to pay for the billions of pounds the government has spent (and wasted) on COVID-19, you’ll want to know exactly how to make sure that precious disposable income is spent with you and not your competitors.