Foodservice & Hospitality Insights: Summer 2020 & COVID-19’s Impact

Let’s discuss the coronavirus pandemic, foodservice and hospitality. What are the government’s next steps, the latest trends and how might the UK public’s behaviours be changing? How can retailers take advantage?

The coronavirus pandemic has turned the world upside down for most of us in the UK. But with the lockdown gradually easing, it may appear that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

On Friday 20 March, all pubs, cafes and restaurants were ordered to close their doors to the public. The effects have been felt particularly keenly in the foodservice sector, with the resulting fall in demand for food and drinks products from the hospitality industry.

As we move into summer 2020, what is the current state of play in the foodservice sector? What are the government’s next steps as it relates to hospitality, and how might the UK public’s behaviours be changing? How can retailers take advantage?

Let’s explore the foodservice landscape, discussing those latest foodie trends and insights – and how the foodservice sector may successfully weather the coronavirus storm and come out fighting.


2020: A continental, street food summer?

As you’re all probably aware, the government is planning tentative steps to re-open the hospitality sector, but things aren’t likely to look quite the same for a while. 

It’s altogether possible that the hospitality and foodservice industry could see somewhat of a small uptick over the next few months, as venues slowly begin to do more trade.

One way of getting things going is by taking things outdoors; scientists have shown that the risk of virus transmission in the open air is far lower. This has birthed a new vision of sorts – continental-style town centres.

In mid-May, ministers confirmed a report in the Sunday Telegraph which detailed plans for cafes, pubs and restaurants to have blanket permission to sell food and drink from street stalls outside of their premises.

The vision is for Mediterranean and European-style town centres, with pubs and restaurants at least able to recoup some of their revenues through street food. For those establishments lucky enough to be able to get an al fresco dining or street food stall operation off the ground, this could be a lifeline. 

As ever, any predictions about the next few months in the hospitality industry must be caveated with the uncertainty which has typified 2020 so far; no-one is quite sure if a second wave of infections could trigger a second round of lockdown measures.


‘Mini lockdowns’ and the hospitality trade

There’s also potentially a local and regional aspect to the fortunes of the hospitality and foodservice sector over the coming months. As the government’s strategy for combating the virus evolves, the ‘track and trace’ strategy has been rolled out; this allows for the identification of local virus flare ups.

The prospect of mini-lockdowns has been widely floated by senior government ministers. In this, the idea is for a targeted approach for measures at a micro level where there might be a hotspot of infections, as opposed to a nationwide, blanket policy.

Latest research, by scientists at Cambridge University and Public Health England, shows that some areas of the UK have stubbornly high levels of infection, whereas in other parts of the country, the ‘R’ number for coronavirus transmission is much lower.

What this means – we may see targeted, local lockdowns. Hospitality and food businesses in some parts of the UK may be given the green light to operate more freely, whereas those in certain other parts of the UK may have to enforce more distancing protocols, or even shut their doors temporarily.


Pubs, cafes and restaurants: How are they adapting?

With plans to give restaurants, bars and cafes permission to trade as of 4 July, expect to see fewer tables with limits on customer numbers, reduced hours, greater local produce as well as slimmed-down menus.

There’s also talk of mandatory gloves and masks when not eating, as well as barriers between diners and temperature checks on entry. This will cause a lot of logistical confusion and added expense for many restaurants, pubs and cafes, but it shows that there is some return to business on the horizon.

What are some companies already doing? Well, we’re probably all aware of quick-service restaurant (QSR) brands like McDonald’s opening a select number of restaurants for drive-thru only, as well as chains like Nando’s planning to open business for delivery.

Burger King announced plans to reopen one chain in every city by 31 May, with cafe chains such as Costa opening for drive-thru and delivery. As of May 14, M&S has also swung the doors open to 49 of its in-store cafes for takeaway drinks.

The key: hygiene and social distance. This will mean very much slimmed down services, presenting challenges to retailers who won’t be able to operate at maximum capacity.

What about those establishments with a traditionally non-takeaway offering, where sitting down at a table is part of the experience? Many have still taken the step to diversify their activity. Take Côte, for example, who recently launched their ‘Côte at Home’ service. This involves the delivery of restaurant produce – raw meats, desserts, wines or ready-made meals – for customers to cook from their own kitchens, promising ‘effortless cooking and no washing up’.


The UK public’s eat-out behaviour in response to COVID-19

In many foodservice and hospitality circles, there’s been a fear about the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Are people going to stay away from restaurants? After all, those in the retired age bracket – one of the higher-spending demographics groups – are typically more at risk from the virus. Has the lockdown shown people that they don’t really need to spend as much money eating out? 

According to leading polling organisation YouGov, around a third of Brits (32%) are actually expecting to spend more on meals out than they did before the lockdown.

Of course, the headline conceals the fact that 19% of people are looking to reign in their spending in pubs and restaurants, but it illustrates a not-wholly-negative picture. Fears of the Great British public abandoning their beloved restaurants don’t quite have the backing – in fact, quite the contrary.


The Great British picnic returns – but it’s got a new look!

One quite understandable change in behaviour as a result of the coronavirus – picnics are back on the menu. 

As people have been given the green light to meet other people from outside their household outdoors, the picnic has clearly undergone a revival. It’s unsurprising to learn that sales of on-the-go and convenience lines have soared in recent weeks. 

However, increasingly, these aren’t your ordinary picnics. Originally seen as a fashionable social event, it seems picnics are going back to their lavish roots.

In a recent survey by Flora, around 60 percent of people say they’ve made a concerted effort to ‘upgrade’ their picnics, with three-quarters of people saying the picnic is ‘better than ever’.

The research also showed us just what trend items people in the UK are after for their hampers – cured hams, hummus, rare roast beef, olives and homemade goodies like quiche are soaring in popularity.

Conversely, traditional picnic foods like cocktail sausages, scotch eggs and jam sandwiches have seen a decline. It would be fair to say that picnics seem to be becoming a more luxurious occasion; people want to make a statement with the content of their hampers.

It will perhaps come to be one of the enduring symbols and trends of summer 2020 in the UK – blankets, hampers and a lovely socially-distanced lunch.


A socially-distanced beer garden?

In line with the government’s plans to permit the re-opening of certain hospitality venues if they can guarantee social distancing, the beer garden might not be completely sacrificed for summer 2020. YouGov research shows that lockdown hasn’t dented Britain’s appetite for an alcoholic drink, so don’t be surprised to see a very healthy flow of custom.

The British Beer & Pubs Association (BBPA) estimates that just over half of the UK’s pubs have outdoor space which will permit operation of a beer garden; that’s a potential 27,000 pubs which will be able to get the drinks flowing on 4 July – we’ll certainly say ‘cheers’ to that.

Of course, the story isn’t so rosy for the many other pubs without such facilities, or very small beer gardens. This highlights the real logistical problems posed by the need to socially distance. Many operators may seek to combine takeaway sales with maximising use of beer gardens.

Summer 2020, foodservice and hospitality: In a nutshell

This is to prove a very challenging summer for businesses involved in hospitality and foodservice. Sales and activity understandably suffered, with takeaways providing the only income for most foodservice businesses.

That said, not all is perhaps lost. By acting creatively, some of our beloved restaurants, cafes and pubs may be able to weather the storm of summer 2020 better than hoped. On-the-go food is a real trend which many operators may be able to exploit, diversifying their offering.

Some hospitality businesses will hope to find an outdoor, socially-distant solution that works for them. Research shows that many of us are ready and willing to spend on eating out, when the time is right, but challenges exist over logistics to ensure social distancing.

The Great British public’s embracing of outdoor eating and picnics does provide real opportunity for some, with the government allowing food to be sold from outdoor areas. Beer gardens are soon to be back on the menu for those venues lucky enough to provide them.

It’s fair to say that uncertainty rules the roost in foodservice for summer 2020, but there are traces for cautious optimism as hospitality adapts.