How the hospitality industry has adapted and continues to evolve with COVID-19

Commercial and Marketing teams across The Group shared their thoughts on how restaurants and pubs have navigated the COVID-19 minefield, and what they might be able to do to ride out the second wave.

As the countdown to Christmas begins, and the end of a second lockdown approaches, what can the industry learn from the last seven months for yet more ‘unprecedented’ times ahead?

The hospitality industry has undoubtedly been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. A major contributor to the UK economy – employing 2.9 million people and generating £130bn in economic activity – lockdowns and social distancing rules continue to wash over the industry like a tsunami, and with a second wave underway, the damage may be far from over.

Following the first nationwide lockdown Boris Johnson announced back in March, all pubs, cafes, bars and restaurants were closed to slow the spread of coronavirus. The ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme was a welcome lifeline that encouraged diners back out to support the economy and boost the hospitality sector. Like much of 2020, the uptake of the offer was ‘unprecedented’ and saw sales skyrocket, with some restaurants reporting three-hour long queues and customers complaining they were unable to secure bookings. Unfortunately, this boom in business is once again on hold as new national lockdown restrictions threaten the livelihood of the industry.

How has the industry adapted so far?

To coexist with COVID-19 safely, it’s been crucial for businesses to adapt to a new way of doing things. Protective and preventative measures have been implemented across society, and have quickly become our ‘new normal’ – which allowed business to resume prior to the second lockdown (though at a reduced capacity) and the economy received a much needed boost. 

  • Plexiglass screens, face masks and sanitising stations have provided a feeling of reassurance, safety and security to both customers and staff, reducing the risk of transmission.
  • Technology is playing a bigger role than ever, with QR codes for ordering directly to table and temperature scanning upon arrival to minimise contact risks. 
  • Takeaway services have kept many establishments going, bringing their customers’ favourite dishes direct to their door.

How must the industry adapt to our ‘new normal’ and the build up to Christmas?

If you’re a hospitality venue looking for tips to navigate the next few months once this lockdown lifts, there’s plenty to do to keep trade ticking over.

Increased use of mobile and app technology

Work to ensure a seamless and streamlined ordering and payment system for efficient service and positive experiences – whether they’re eating in or taking away. Investing in this technology is key for short and long-term success. No one quite knows what impact this may have on the future of operating a business in hospitality, but with convenience a growing priority for customers and the success of delivery services like Deliveroo and JustEat, you can expect to see more demand for your dishes beyond your four walls. 

Provide customer incentives

Spread the timings of sittings so you can attract a steady influx of customers throughout the day or week, offering price incentives such as lunch and early bird deals, two and three course set menus, cocktail bundles or age-specific time slots for classic dishes. In a time where customers may be more conscious of what they’re spending, creating value in what you’re offering and making the experience special is key in maximising the spend per head. With lots of people getting into the festive spirit early this year, adding some Christmas magic to your service will be much appreciated in a time where many are worried about how we’ll be spending the holidays. Try creating a festive themed menu or adding some decorations that don’t interfere with the heightened health and safety restrictions to spread some much needed Christmas cheer! 

Increased sanitation, PPE & social distancing

It goes without saying, but increased use of sanitation, PPE and social distancing not only reassures clientele (and keeps them coming back), but also keeps everyone safer. Stay vigilant with your cleaning efforts, especially during the colder months which will bring with them a wave of cold and flu cases with symptoms similar to coronavirus.

Of course, ensure your space is compliant to social distancing rules and remind your customers of the guidance on wearing a mask when away from their seat, for their safety and those around them. Good quality masks and visors keep everyone comfortable, but most importantly, safe.

With the festive season set to bring its own challenges, and the potential threat of yet more local restrictions, it’s going to be a balancing act for many businesses to survive the coming months. Adapting to the new way of working will be paramount for riding the second wave (and any future flare ups) whilst maintaining strong levels of customer support.