Cutting the distance with customers

Last week's YouGov poll revealed that many people remain nervous about venturing out after months of lockdown, and that’s across all regions and age groups. How can the hospitality sector change that public sentiment - or at least move it a few percentage points?

CGA’s Peter Martin weighs in on consumer opinions on eating and drinking out again and the two-metre distancing rule.

Last week’s YouGov poll that showed a majority of the British public still in favour of retaining two-metre distancing should not have come as any surprise.

Many people remain nervous about venturing out after months of lockdown, and that’s across all regions and age groups. Those YouGov figures revealed support for keeping the two metres ‘rule’ at around 60% right across the board.

CGA’s more hospitality-specific research has consistently shown that around 20% of the population is ready to go back to pubs and restaurants come what may – and those may well be the same folk that flocked to the shops this Monday or to the beaches a few weekends back.

But another 10-20% aren’t going anywhere any time soon – leaving 60% or so needing to be convinced and reassured that it’s safe to go back to bars and restaurants – and that includes those that regularly went out before the crisis

That’s the fundamental challenge facing both hospitality operators and the Government – because the more we know about Boris Johnson’s administration, the more we realize that it’s not the science that No10 is driven by, but public opinion.

There are those that believe that ministers’ reluctance to relax physical distancing, and more importantly to give a firm date for reopening the sector in England, is only because they just don’t understand the plight of the industry, the jobs that will be lost, businesses wrecked.

Evidence is that they do comprehend only too well. Lobbying has been effective; politicians of all hues regularly hold up hospitality as a sector in need of support.

But that is being balanced by the polling and the prevailing public mood. So that’s why we hear cabinet ministers hedging their bets, talking about two metres ‘only being a guide’, why Tory backbenchers are hinting that it will all be reversed in weeks, and why the Government hides behind a ‘review’ without taking the plunge and moving to a more helpful one or 1.5 metres norm.

We might well think it ’weak’, ‘cowardly’, ‘illogical’ or much worse, but that’s not the point. If this view is correct and Government is more interested in listening to the public, how can the hospitality sector change that public sentiment or at least move it a few percentage points?

The real fear is that hospitality might have to wait until eating and drinking venues fully open to achieve that result, and we get the distancing ‘rules’ relaxed. Only when customers see that it’s safe to go out to the pub or pizza joint and experience for themselves the measures that operators have put in place to keep them safe will they relax, get back into the habit of a night out and tell their friends how good it is.

We can all send more letters and petitions to Government, but perhaps we should now consciously shift the sector’s PR effort to the public – and that may include refining the messaging too.

Even on the political front talking more about getting young people back into work might be a message the public can more easily relate to than that of news of another pub or restaurant brand going to the wall – and perhaps hearing the stories of our team members and getting them in front of the cameras rather than ‘business types’ might be more productive too? If you haven’t seen what Hawksmoor posted on Twitter this week about the reaction of its staff to news of its reopening plans have a look now – it’s inspiring.

The restaurant and pub sector has some brilliant marketers, so now may be just the time for them to up the ante. As JKS Restaurants CEO Jyotin Sethi, who operates Gymkhana, Trishna and Brigadiers in London, told MCA’s The Conversation this week, the battleground for marginal businesses like restaurants will be be in persuading those undecided in the middle to come back out.

Focusing on giving the public, the sector’s customers, confidence might just have a double benefit. #JustSaying



Peter Martin Vice President, CGA

With well over 30 years of experience in the sector, Peter brings his unrivalled experience and expertise to our data, providing analysis of trends and issues that no others can match. In this time, he has launched and run a host of industry magazines, journals and events, including M&C Report, the Retailers’ Retailer Awards and Peach Factory, which became part of the CGA family in 2013. Peter created CGA data services including the Coffer Peach Business Tracker and BrandTrack, and is the leading commentator on the UK’s eating and drinking out market, speaking regularly at events at home and internationally.

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