Operators on the new out-of-home normal

Business leaders from the UK and US joined CGA’s latest webinar to discuss big changes to the eating and drinking out markets in 2020 and beyond.

Business leaders from the UK and US joined CGA and Atlantic Club’s latest webinar to discuss big changes to the eating and drinking out markets in 2020 and beyond. Here are some of the things they had to say.

‘We’ve approached the COVID challenge with a positive mindset’

Loungers has responded to the pandemic with an optimistic, can-do attitude, said its Chairman Alex Reilley. “We approached it with a positive mindset and I think we rose to the challenge very well… Our mentality was that we decided to make the changes ourselves—that they weren’t forced on us.” Loungers has been particularly careful to strike the right balance between safety and experience. “A lot of venues have over-thought their measures, and some have ended up looking like a cross between a pub and an ICU ward,” he said. “You can see that things are slightly different [in Loungers venues], but it still feels like an environment you’re happy to spend a lot of time in.”

‘Tech has increased spend per head’

The recent surge in app-based ordering has led to people ordering more, Reilley said. “It’s undeniably driven additional spend per head in the Lounges… if you’re mid-meal and want another drink you can now get it on the phone without having to queue at the bar.” Cocktails have been especially popular: “They’re not the kind of thing you can easily recreate at home, and people have missed them.”

‘Data can make us more efficient’

As Harrison Asia-Pacific Director Paul Wainwright pointed out, greater online engagement in lockdown has given brands a wealth of new data on their customers. It opens up opportunities to provide guests with more tailored experiences and loyalty, he said.

“The more restaurants can capitalize on personal service through that data… the more we’ll drive people back.” Investing in back of house data systems can meanwhile reduce waste, predict sales and optimize staff shifts. “It’s an upfront cost, but brands that have spent on this are able to become much more efficient.”

‘There’s a lot of scrambling going on’

Many US restaurant operators have been quickly adding more outdoor space to get round limitations on eating in, said Herman/Stewart President Terry Varner. But with winter coming, new solutions are going to have to be found. “Sit-down restaurants are still trying to figure what they should do… there’s a lot of scrambling going on.”

‘Casual dining groups have been over-exposed’

Former Carluccio’s CEO Mark Jones said the pandemic had accelerated consolidation in the casual dining sector, with many brands having over-reached themselves. “There’s been a massive over-reliance on city centres—many casual dining groups have over-exposed there.” But he added that problems for established brands create opportunities for new operators, who suddenly have a wider and more affordable choice of city centre locations.

‘If staff aren’t happy, guests won’t be’

Increasing numbers of operators recognise their responsibility for keeping staff happy and healthy, said Harri Director Peter Willis.

“In the last four months a lot of big enterprises are moving towards the communications and engagement piece… [they realise that] if staff aren’t happy then guests won’t be either.”

‘We’ve been pushed to update our tech’

The closure of its eat-in restaurants has led Front Burner to experiment with formats like retail and bundled takeaway boxes, and accelerated digital activity, said CEO Jack Gibbons. “It’s really pushed us to update our restaurants technology wise.”

‘We’re rebuilding with takeout’

Farmbird Co-founder Andrew Harris said delivery, takeout and pick-up have been a lifeline for many restaurants. “We’ve invested a lot in that experience… we were fortunate that we could rebuild with those formats.” Farmbird has also worked on layouts to meet the needs of pick-up customers and delivery riders. ”We’ve really thought about the different people who are coming and about how they are mingling … I never want to see someone in line being trampled by a courier—even more so when everyone’s scared about people breathing on them.”

‘Street food has lost a few and gained a few’

Delivery has also saved some operators in the street food sector, who have been hit as hard by the crisis as anyone. “We’ve lost a few but we’ve gained a few,” said Food Mutiny Founder Richard Johnson.

“A lot of them have done really well out of delivery… the relationship between street food and apps was always quite difficult, but out of necessity it’s improved.” Mark Jones said the street food sector was keeping bricks and mortar operators on their toes. “I’m very envious of the entrepreneurs behind those businesses—they’ve been very beneficial for educating the whole market.”

The ‘Redefining the out-of-home experience’ webinar was hosted by CGA and Peter Martin’s Atlantic Club, in partnership with Harrison, Herman/Stewart and Harri. For more views from the webinar click here, and to watch it in full click here.

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