If the UK hospitality sector has demonstrated any collective characteristic during this turbulent year, it is resilience. In responding to new restrictions while adapting to ever-changing government guidelines, operators across the country have demonstrated their ability to accommodate guests and create exceptional hospitality experiences, despite the challenges of a pandemic.
But just as guidelines continue to evolve, so will guest behaviours and the expectations that inform them. COVID-19 will continue to shape every dining experience in both the short-term and into the new year, and it’s clear that this will happen in different ways for different customers depending on their individual concerns surrounding the pandemic. For operators, knowing which types of guests will turn up to a venue post-lockdown – as well as those that won’t – will be important given the shortened festive period. Devising revenue-driving strategies that then cater to each one and deliver on diners’ demands will be critical.
As the nation’s pubs, bars and restaurants prepare to reopen once again, a SevenRooms study has identified four unique dining personas, each craving a distinct dining experience when the lockdown is lifted.
The ‘Cautiously Committed’
As any operator knows, a solid foundation of loyal and local customers is key for sustainable success. This remains true in COVID times, particularly with a growing number of consumers looking to support local businesses where they can. A loyal patron knows what to expect from a venue and feels at home with a restaurant’s food offering, ambiance and staff. This is why post-lockdown, more than a quarter of diners say they are only prepared to book a table at a location they have been to previously – and only once they felt confident with any updated COVID-related protocols. Familiarity is a source of comfort and trust, which is critical amid an ongoing pandemic.
What this highlights for operators is the enduring value of building and maintaining strong guest relationships. These are best activated through encouraging direct reservations and nurtured through regular engagement. A direct relationship allows a restaurant to utilise individual insights – a favourite cocktail or dessert, for example – to build a personalised picture of guests’ likes and dislikes to help inform future offerings. This gives guests greater confidence in the experiences they will receive next time – a sure-fire way to ensure they keep coming back for more.
The ‘Safety Savvy’
Behind these ‘cautiously committed’ guests, venues must prepare for the arrival of those with a greater level of concern around health and safety. Around one in five diners say they will only feel comfortable making reservations again once a month has passed – enough time, they say, to assess and be confident of a venue’s COVID controls. Additionally, one in six say they will wait longer than a month after reopening to make a booking.
Here, operators need to show guests that they not only understand their concerns, but that they have the right systems in place to respond to them. This goes beyond mandated mask-wearing in venues to encompass full contact-free customer journeys, including pre-visit communication, digital menus and contactless order and pay. Direct communication before a guest’s arrival provides a proactive opportunity to put minds at ease around what to expect, reducing the likelihood of a ‘no show’ and paving the way for a positive experience. Having the capability for digital interaction via a personal mobile device – either from an SMS with a web link beforehand or via a QR code at the table – also provides guests with the contact-free option they need to feel comfortable enjoying the on-premise dining experience.
The ‘Delivery Devotees’
Where 10% of a restaurant’s business might have come from delivery pre-COVID, this figure increases to around 80-90% under lockdown conditions. Coming out of lockdown, operators should continue to prioritise an online ordering strategy, as recent shifts in consumer behaviour make it a valuable revenue stream in the long-term. More people are now regularly ordering delivery than ever before, with contactless delivery set to continue as the favoured option for almost one in seven Brits, even when restaurants do reopen. Knowing this is useful for operators, who can protect a valuable revenue stream. However, relying solely on third-party delivery providers will likely prove unsustainable once venues are back up and running – particularly for smaller independents.
Third parties are great for convenience and exposure, but where possible should not be a venue’s only strategy for reaching off-premise diners. Instead, operators should look to technology solutions that enable them to facilitate their own online direct ordering, collection and delivery. Not only will this be cheaper than paying commission each time a customer wants a collection or delivery order, but it will also allow venues to build and maintain the kind of direct and personalised relationships that drive value through loyalty and repeat visits.
The ‘Carefree Connoisseurs’
While many consumers are understandably cautious, it’s also evident that a significant chunk are craving the return of the experience-driven economy. There is a real desire for engaging on-premise experiences, and restaurants have a huge opportunity to capitalise on this pent-up demand – especially during the Christmas period – by diversifying their usual offerings and maximising revenue from reduced covers. Capacity controls and curfew restrictions are likely to curtail the large, late-night traditional Christmas party, but holiday-themed experiential dining and takeaway Christmas hampers could make sure guests don’t miss out on that festive feeling. Using data insights around guests’ tastes and spending habits, meanwhile, could help operators to identify tailored upsell opportunities or promotions – a select tasting menu or wine pairings, perhaps – as an additional revenue generator.
Whether they are targeting a busy festive period or a happy new year, venues must now look to build a deeper understanding of what their guests want and how shifting expectations will drive future dining habits. Paired with a winning strategy to effectively engage with guests wherever they are post-lockdown, 2021 will be the year for hospitality operators to thrive.
By Danilo Mangano, general manager Europe, SevenRooms