How has the pandemic changed hospitality, and what’s the outlook for 2021? A panel of industry leaders hosted by CGA’s vice president Peter Martin gave CGA’s Big Peach 2020 Digital Experience their views.
Hospitality businesses have done a great job in reassuring customers about safety, said Karen Jones, executive chair of Prezzo and chair of Hawksmoor and Mowgli. “Hygiene is built into what we do now, and that’s a good thing… anything that makes you look at your operational standards and move them forward is positive. Our industry has made such gargantuan efforts [on safety], and that’s been recognised by our customers.”
Fuller’s CEO Simon Emeny said that focus would help bring customers back quickly when they are allowed to. “In September and October people had seen that pubs and restaurants were incredibly safe… this time we won’t have the same nervousness to overcome.”
The pandemic has shifted operators’ marketing activity away from big campaigns and towards more personal engagement, said Wagamama CEO Emma Woods. “It’s been important to meet customers where they are over the last nine months… we’ve developed a much more active, two-way dialogue.” She used the example of students, whom Wagamama has supported with things like food drops over university lockdowns. It helps their wellbeing, but builds loyalty too. “If we can connect with them when they need us, when we get out of this horrid time they’ll hopefully have an even stronger affection for the brand.”
Emma Woods said delivery had helped to sustain Wagamama, reducing the need for redundancies, keeping chefs working and the supply chain turning. “It’s given us Covid resilience.”
On bringing people back to cities
Getting people back to offices will be the spark to trade that city centres need, said Karen Jones. “We know how much people like being with people, and we all feel the lack of interaction with teams in the workplace… people are going to want to get back into their offices, and that’s how we get the wheel of retail, office and hospitality turning again.”
On supporting staff
As businesses ride the rollercoaster of openings and closures, it is important to look after staff, said Simon Emeny. “The biggest challenge at the moment is maintaining the enthusiasm of people who have been on furlough again—it’s a really challenging time for them.” Keeping an eye on the behaviour of customers who are desperate to come out and enjoy themselves will be another big test of teams, said ARC Inspirations CEO Martin Wolstencroft. “Managing customers when they’re so excited to get out is going to be a great challenge.”
On lasting changes
Speakers agreed that many of the changes triggered by the pandemic, like app-based ordering and reservations, will continue. “I think table bookings will accelerate even more… “We’ve all learned things in the last seven months that we’ll carry forward once the vaccine has been rolled out,” said Simon Emeny—though the fundamentals of hospitality won’t change.
On planning for the long-term
Emma Woods said businesses had to balance short and long-term planning in the weeks ahead. “We’ve got to manage the short-term challenges of openings and closures. But there are some sunny uplands ahead, and we’ve got to find a way to plan for that. There are lots of opportunities, and it will be the businesses that are ready and have done some thinking and testing that will take advantage of them.”
On the value of hospitality
Karen Jones said the pandemic had reminded consumers of the simple pleasures of going out to eat and drink. “People have realised how lovely it is to be in a pub or restaurant… they have lovely times there. I think we’ve built an industry to be proud of—it’s got better and better and better.”
You can watch the full Leaders’ Panel session at the Big Peach 2020 Digital Experience here.