How well has the sector performed since reopening, and what more can be done to bring people back? CGA’s recent ‘Catching the new wave of consumers’ webinar with Yumpingo, hosted by Vice President Peter Martin, gathered expert views from five leaders across the sector.
‘Eat Out to Help Out has exceeded expectations’
The Eat Out to Help Out scheme has given food sales a massive lift in August, said UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls—and the government is “hugely pleased” with its impact.
After furlough it’s been one of the most important schemes they’ve introduced in terms of building confidence… it’s exceeded their expectations,” she said. “The critical thing it’s done is helping people understand they have permission to go back [to the on-trade].”
‘We’ve had our biggest ever food sales’
Eat Out to Help Out has given Brewdog its busiest ever week of food sales, said Retail Director James Brown. With beer not excluded from the 50% deal, drinks sales haven’t reached those heights—especially at night, when people head for home on public transport earlier. “Previously we would be busy from after-work to 10pm—now that’s more like 8.30pm,” he said.
‘Eat Out to Help Out is a double-edged sword’
Like most restaurant brands, Rosa’s Thai Cafe has been packed from Mondays to Wednesdays since the launch of Eat Out to Help Out. While it’s boosted trade, crowds risk compromises to safety, said CEO Gavin Adair.
On those Monday to Wednesday shifts we’re seeing some greater dissatisfaction around safety… just because the restaurants are so busy.” As some in the industry have pointed out, the deal might also be getting people accustomed to heavy discounting. “I think Eat Out to Help Out is a double edged sword—a longer term issue for us as a sector,” said Adair.
‘Delivery has held up’
The reopening of restaurants has produced major new trading patterns for Rosa’s, including an imbalance between busy London ‘villages’ and the centre of the capital. But delivery sales, which rose sharply during lockdown, have been sustained. “Delivery is holding up more than I expected,” said Gavin Adair. So have sales in retail centres. “If you’d asked me three months ago I’d have said our biggest challenges would be shopping centres—I didn’t think there’d be much footfall there, but there is.”
‘Shut venues that let us down’
Media coverage about pubs flouting social distancing regulations has been overblown, the webinar guests agreed. But operators that are genuinely flouting guidelines risk giving everyone in the industry a bad name, said William Lees-Jones, Managing Director of JW Lees. “If we’ve got operators letting people sitting at the bar, or playing live music, then they should be shut down, because they’re letting down the rest of us.”
‘We have to learn to live with COVID’
The recent closure of a JW Lees pub after cases of COVID-19 was “a wake-up call” about safety,” said Lees-Jones. “We’re now even tighter [on safety] than we were when we reopened. It just takes one person to come in with COVID and suddenly everything has to shut down again… We have to learn to live with COVID and make pubs and restaurants safe places to go out.”
‘Lack of music has had a big impact’
Brown said Scotland’s restrictions on music in pubs had held back recovery for some venues. “It’s had a big impact of atmosphere… and probably sales. We hope the government will work with us on that.”
‘We need to work together’
Kate Nicholls said compliance with requirements like Track and Trace will help other sectors of hospitality—like late-night and events—bounce back sooner.
There are significant parts of our industry that are not yet open and have no date… we need to work together to help get them open.” Conforming will also speed up the easing of restrictions on things like music and standing. “We’ve got to make sure this doesn’t become the new normal for pubs. Bear down now and we’ll get out of this quicker.”
‘Use technology to enhance experiences’
Technology solutions, like app-based ordering, payment and Track and Trace registration, have a big part to play in the industry’s safety precautions, said Gary Goodman, CEO of Yumpingo. “This is bringing in adoption of technology in six months that would normally have take six years… [there’s a chance] to use people’s devices to enhance their experience.” He also urged operators to listen carefully to consumers via the We Hear You campaign. “It’s given us the voice of the guest with more certainty than we’ve ever had before.” Operators can sign up to take part in the scheme here.