By Peter Martin
If reopening businesses after a three-month lay-off and with a heap of new regulations and restrictions to follow wasn’t difficult enough, there are those just waiting for pubs and restaurants to mess up.
There will be reporters and photographers stationed outside A&Es across the land waiting for the first drunk to be admitted. Headline writers are primed. The fact that the prime minister has urged the public to take it easy if they are going out for a drink will only encourage the tabloids. It’s going to be a tricky time for the industry.
The encouraging news, however, is that the Government has been positively supportive of the out-of-home market, not least with its #EnjoySummerSafely campaign, urging the public to get out and about. It’s even funded an excellent video explaining the welcome people should expect when they are out to eat and drink, featuring Peter Borg-Neal’s Oakman Inns as an example of how it should be done. All good.
Other operators are also communicating expertly with their customers on what the new experience is going to be like – Wagamama’s new video on social media is a top example.
But not everyone sees the eating and drinking-out market as a force for good – and it’s not just parts of the media. We’ve all heard stories of over-exuberant EHOs already trying to lay down the law and impose conditions that go far beyond the new Government guidelines on reopening. They’ll be waiting for a slip up too.
I may sound cynical, but for everyone with a vision of the pub as a warming roses-around-the-door haven, there are others who only see a boozer, a den of drunkenness and debauchery.
This weekend, and the coming week, will be the biggest challenge the hospitality has ever had to face. How will the new systems stand up? How will the staff cope with the new protocols? How will customers react?
The planning is done – and pre-booking, check-in, digital order-and-pay, one-way systems, obvious hygiene measures, and the rest, will all help deliver a smooth and efficient experience for owners, teams and consumers.
There are arguments over the level of hygiene and safety measures that customers will expect and whether over doing it, with say masks for staff, will ruin the experience for them. Research shows that consumers want to be reassured – and satisfaction ratings from the parts of the US where restaurants and bars have already opened show a strong correlation between satisfaction with hygiene and safety and marks for overall experience.
That judgement will, of course, be down to individual operators, but being extra cautious might be advisable at least to start with, and then adjust to what the customers say. Cut down risk, including on the PR front.
On the plus side, indications are that hospitality staff are keen to get back to work – and industry members have shown throughout lockdown an eagerness to support one another.
On the other hand, as seen in the likes of Texas and Florida, if there is a virus flare-up bars will be in the firing line – not just being closed down again but taking the blame. This week’s set back in Leicester shows it could happen here.
I know this can all sound a little downbeat on what should be a time of relief and even excitement, but there are real dangers for the sector out there.
CGA’s estimates, and they are only estimates, are that just a third of sites will actually open their doors this weekend. For those that do, good luck – and let’s drink to an uneventful few days, when the sensationalist media and other spoil sports go home empty handed.
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.