Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be construed as legal, data protection or public health advice. Please always consult a knowledgeable professional advisor.
Hospitality businesses threw their doors open to welcome customers again in May 2021, giving Brits the first chance to go out and eat and drink.
Most hospitality venues have been closed since December after already spending several months of 2020 in lockdown. Welcoming people back to restaurants and other venues after such a long time is an exciting prospect, albeit one which comes with new strategies to keep customers and staff as safe as possible post-lockdown. This guide will help hospitality managers to transition as smoothly as possible.
While restrictions are being lifted in many areas, the UK government is still emphasising the importance of social distancing to control the COVID-19 virus. Restaurants and pubs can help keep their clientele more comfortable by having clearly marked areas for individual groups with a well thought out floor plan wherever possible. Larger venues may benefit from implementing a one-way system for foot traffic to prevent unnecessary crossover between patrons too.
Keeping tables at least the minimum distance apart not only abides by government guidelines but also helps reassure customers that they are as safe as can be while dining or drinking out.
A contactless experience
Social distancing and reduced contact have been shown to help slow the spread of the virus. Customers returning to social venues, after many months of enforced isolation, naturally want to interact with each other but also want to feel safe. Hospitality venues can improve the customer experience by offering a service that is as contactless as possible.
One way to reduce contact is to introduce an order and pay at table system using QR codes. These let customers access menus online using their personal devices. Payments can also be made through these systems to minimise contact. Where customers prefer to pay by card, a contactless card machine can be brought to the table. You might even find that customers are tempted to spend a little bit more with ordering just a tap away.
An omnichannel marketing approach is essential in the post-pandemic world. Modern consumers have spent more than a year reliant on the internet for almost everything. While a return to socialising will reduce time spent online, it’s still the go to place for research and entertainment. Multi-channel marketing is therefore essential to reach a wider audience.
Social media is one of the best platforms for any hospitality venue to spread the word about their new opening plans. Sharing menus in advance or showing pictures of the newly COVID-safer environment can reassure people and get them excited about visiting your establishment again.
Emails and CRM
One of the many benefits of a system where customers use their own devices to order and pay at the table is that businesses automatically collect data at the point of sale that can enhance the customer list.
Customers who have input their names and email addresses and opted into marketing using the ordering app become part of a wider CRM strategy and can be contacted easily with special offers, thank you emails and referral codes.
Partnerships and competitions
The hospitality industry has been one of the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic, with restaurant employees experiencing hours reduced by 65% compared to a national average of 24% in 2020. It is therefore more important than ever for the industry as a whole to pull together as we enter the post-lockdown recovery period.
Local hospitality venues may be able to find ways of working together to provide improved customer experiences across the board, for instance running a social media competition to win a package of treats from various venues. Encouraging entries through following and tagging friends and families helps to get your business in front of new people.
Offers and promotions
The restaurant and bar industry has long formed an essential part of the wider UK economy. The average household before COVID-19 spent approximately 5% of their total weekly spend on drinking and eating out. However, many households have also been dealing with a reduced income for many months.
Providing a range of special offers and promotions designed to fill tables at times when a venue may otherwise be only partially full can help draw people in at less busy times and increase customer confidence.
Ideas for promotions include offering discounts, affordable set menus or happy hours for off-peak times such as weekday lunchtimes in restaurants or mid-week bookings for hotels. Kids eating free is often a popular draw for families.
Including dinner as part of a hotel break or free dessert as part of a lunch offer can help make eating out more affordable and encourage more people to visit your venue at times when there is likely to be plenty of seats.
Encourage customer reviews
Approximately 90% of people will check out online reviews before visiting a business and 88% trust online reviews as much as they would trust a personal recommendation. Encouraging happy customers to leave these all-important reviews is therefore one of the best ways to bring in new business.
Using software that allows customers to order and pay at the table means building up a database of opted-in customer emails. This can then be used to thank those customers for coming and point them in the direction of review sites. Adding links to review sites in an online ordering system can also help encourage positive feedback.
Keep your options open
As we cautiously return to ‘the new normal’, many customers will naturally still be apprehensive about returning to indoor venues.
Restaurants and other hospitality venues that have been able to offer COVID-safer options such as outside space, delivery and click and collect may find it valuable to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Maintaining these options, even while indoor dining is taking place, ensures that the widest possible customer base is covered and everyone has options that they can access while still feeling safe.
The pandemic triggered a rapid shift towards a more digital world. Even as businesses begin to open their doors once more, many people who have adapted to spending online will continue to do so.
Having online ordering options available alongside re-opened venues allows those customers to maintain their current way of life and provides a broader scope of opportunity to bring in new business and retain loyal customers.