Necessity is the mother of invention and this is proving to be the case in the hospitality industry as it plots its emergence from lockdown. The recent news from Peter Borg-Neal at Oakman Inns sheds light on some of the key aspects of plan to re-open in a safe and sustainable way.
Certain things are proving to be core this planning:
1. Space: Social distancing is placing a premium on space for customers to sit and move around and staff to cook and serve. Larger venues provide this flexibility but outside space in the form of gardens and even pavements and nearby squares provide further opportunity. This is an area where local government can play their part by relaxing licensing rules to enable this outside space to be utilised. The UK Grand Outdoor Cafe campaign launched by Alan Lorrimer of Piano Works draws attention to this idea. It deserves support because without it smaller venues simply won't have the capacity to generate enough money to pay their bills. Government financial support is critical but there are other levers that can be pulled to support the recovery.
2. Technology: Unfortunately the post-lockdown period is going to be a much less spontaneous place. Pre-booking is the order of the day. In addition, reducing human contact is also important in building confidence of safety. These factors combined are driving a huge demand for order and pay technology. This trend was taking hold pre-crisis but now it is rapidly becoming the norm. One positive outcome from this crisis may be the realisation of the value of a restaurant reservation (trading windows may expand as people work more flexibly) and a reduction in no-shows. Perhaps customers could get a loyalty rating when booking and no-shows count against this - just a thought...
3. Flexibility: Developing and expanding revenue streams beyond those driven by guests in the venues has become an important part of creating sustainable business plans. Delivery has become an essential sales channel and even businesses like pubs that would not naturally have adopted delivery are now embracing it. This is not only in hot food delivered but also creating meals that can be cooked at home. Cote has created a retail product for sale through supermarkets. Pubs have also been acting as hubs for the community and being a click-and-collect location for other local businesses and the pub's own supply chain.
4. Hospitality: In the end, customers will consistently be drawn back to venues on the basis of their experience when they visit. Our hospitality industry excels in this and it will become all the more important in order to cut through some of the limitations imposed by social distancing.
As has been widely publicised, our hospitality industry needs support from its stakeholders and the Government. But for a sustainable recovery it needs support from its customers and it's clear that the leading operators are working hard to make the experience as positive as possible when the long awaited re-opening takes place.