The UK government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme has proved to be a success for the nation’s hospitality sector by encouraging people to return to pubs, cafes, bars and restaurants after COVID-related closures. With figures from the UK treasury showing that over 64 million discounted meals and counting have been served so far in August, the Monday to Wednesday trade has never been busier for many dining and drinking establishments. These figures are a bright spot on the road towards recovery for a sector that saw roughly 80% of businesses halt trading in April, and 1.4 million workers furloughed at the peak of the crisis.
As calls grow to extend ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ beyond the end of August, operators should also be thinking about their long-term strategy for when the scheme ends. ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ has been effective at bringing guests back at a time when venues need the support, but operators should look at this as ‘phase one’ of a much broader and bolder reopening strategy. Without a plan in place for the post-promotion period, operators may have trouble filling their seats at the same levels as during the scheme, especially as diners will have become used to discounted food and drink.
The good news is that the initiative has given venues the perfect opportunity to cultivate more meaningful and direct customer relationships. By focusing on capturing and effectively utilising guest data today, restaurants will be prepared for when the scheme ends by leveraging this same data as a valuable loyalty-building tool.
Prioritising Data Throughout Guest Interactions
Even with capacity restrictions as a result of social distancing regulations, ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ has been crucial for venues looking to reconnect with their regulars and encourage new guests to visit. It has also introduced more opportunities to capture valuable data surrounding the experiences that guests are having within those venues. Data is present at each stage of the customer journey. Each time someone enters a restaurant, joins an online waitlist, makes a reservation or places an order, there are new opportunities to gain useful new insights about that guest. These data points tell an operator something new about a guest’s dining experience, including likes, dislikes, nice-to-haves and necessities. This gives them a greater understanding of why a guest has chosen their venue, how they might tailor future experiences, or whether there might be relevant bespoke promotions that would encourage them to return more frequently.
Venues can use data insights to make dining experiences feel special and personal for everyone that walks through the door. Showing diners to a corner table because that’s where they’re happiest or having their favourite aperitif waiting for them when they arrive are just some of the curated touchpoints that foster guest loyalty. With the right data and tools to leverage it in place, operators can even serve up a personalised menu on a guest’s smartphone that highlights their favourite dishes while automatically removing those containing allergens. By doing this, venues are creating a unique, highly personalised experience that will keep a guest coming back time and again. This is particularly valuable in a post-COVID landscape where a guest’s happiness may be as much down to a sense of safety as it is an appreciation of a restaurant’s ambiance.
Leveraging Data to Drive Repeat Visits & Orders
While many venues are already familiar with the basics of data capture – collecting contact details from an online reservation, for example – the reality is that many operators either don’t have ownership of this data or are not making use of these deeper insights to help them build future loyalty. A successful strategy is rarely built on a single visit because long-term profitability relies on regulars. In fact, studies have shown that it can be up to seven times more expensive to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one, making repeat guests the key to future success.
That is why capturing and leveraging data insights about guest visits is so important for long-term loyalty. Guests who have had a positive experience are more likely to have a favourable response to a marketing email containing a bespoke promotion for something they have previously ordered and enjoyed. With personalised special offers that resonate, venues can avoid falling into the ‘endless voucher’ trap, where diners end up returning more for the discount than for the experience. This applies for both on- and off-premise customers – complementing a regular takeaway or delivery order with a personalised offer for a free favourite side is far more likely to resonate than any generic discount.
We are entering a new era of hospitality where repeat visits matter more than ever. Venues will be dealing with government-mandated social distancing, enforced capacity limits and ongoing uncertainties as a result of COVID-19 for the foreseeable future. Because of this, fostering loyalty where possible must be prioritised. The temptation to see a scheme like ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ as an end in itself might be strong, but initiatives such as these are not outcomes but opportunities – to maximise the impact of guest data and create experiences that turn first-time diners into loyal customers, and ultimately to reopen and rebuild stronger for the future.
By Danilo Mangano, general manager, Europe at SevenRooms