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Re-opening hospitality - your expectations

Re-opening hospitality - your expectations

Reopening

The lockdown roadmap is set to finally allow hospitality to reopen its doors for outdoor dining on April 12th, and with the government recently announcing that businesses will be able to pitch outdoor dining structures without planning permission, there is no doubt that many operators are scrambling to get their venues ready! The update also means that businesses will be able to use the street to serve their guests for 28 days, which according to Big Hospitality, is expected to benefit an estimated 9,000 businesses.

With unprecedented consumer demand, demonstrated by some beer gardens already being booked out for months, there’s a lot of pressure riding on April 12th. To help alleviate some of those pressures, we recently surveyed you, our panel of mystery guests, to discover whether your expectations and preferences have changed since the first lockdown. We have relayed the results below to our clients, to help them to prepare ahead of re-opening.

Service – how forgiving will you be?

Reinvigorating staff from a long furlough slumber may be a key challenge for many operators with front of house teams expected to provide the usual friendly, efficient, and effortless service, despite motivation being at an all-time low - this has been observed across all industries - and it will be incredibly difficult for staff to ‘snap’ back into those roles.

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However, operators that are reopening on 12th of April must succeed in getting teams back to their best selves before pulling that very first pint, because our survey results show that you may be less forgiving than they might think. In those early days after re-opening, many of your expectations will be highest, and there is a big risk of disappointing loyal customers who have waited so long for a visit to their favourite local, if the service is less than perfect.

Despite 68% of you saying you’d be more forgiving of minor service blunders (e.g. a wrong order or delayed service) because of the pandemic, almost a third were unwilling to give any leeway at all.

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Bookings – managing excess demand

Is it better to allow every seat to be booked up in advance, or to keep it casual with walk-ins only? Unsurprisingly, most of you would like both options.

Despite many pub gardens and restaurants advertising as fully booked, there is an opportunity for venues to appeal to a demographic that just want to turn up at a venue – in fact, 60% of you expressed that whilst you want to be able to book in order to make plans, you would also like a small number of tables to be left for walk-ins only, so that you can be spontaneous.

It’s therefore important that operators make their approach to bookings clear, by keeping their website up-to-date, sending email campaigns and posting regularly on social media, in order to both capitalise on the unprecedented demand and to manage your expectations.

Deposits

Having guaranteed revenue in the form of a fully booked venue well in advance can be extremely comforting for operators in this economic climate, not to mention it helps with the planning of budgets and rotas, but blocking off a large number of total available covers as bookings isn’t without risk. With a bit of bad luck, a fully booked venue may have to deal with cancellations and no-shows - this is exactly what operators experienced in August 2020.

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Our study shows that the majority of you (63%) are very happy to pay a deposit for a table. The change in attitude towards booking deposits, in comparison to when we asked you in pre-pandemic times (2019), when that figure was only 30%, is remarkable – and great news for operators.

Back to 2021 – whereas 63% of you were happy to pay a deposit, that figure is only 50% amongst the Gen Z (18-25) age group. The rate follows an upward trend, increasing to 56% between ages 26-45, 72% between the ages 46-65, and peaking at 80% for people aged over 66.

Another important question - how much should operators be asking you for a deposit, so that it covers any potentially lost income, whilst not putting you off? Almost half (47%) of you said you’d be happy to pay up to £5 per person, 42% were happy to pay up to £10, and 9% thought it would be acceptable to pay up to £15 per person for a deposit.

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Virtual waiting lists

Another option to help manage excess demand for bookings is to integrate the bookings platform with a virtual waiting list, allowing you to enter a virtual ‘queue’ for your preferred dates and times. 80% of you said you’d like the option to be added to a virtual wait list if your desired booking date or time was unavailable, which is great news for operators to ensure they fill all tables, and for you to be able to nab any last minute cancellations.

Interestingly, more women (86%) were interested in a wait list over men (70%). Naturally, with technology, rates are high (86%) with Gen Z and millennials (18-35), the rates then decrease in a downwards trend as age increases, the lowest rate (60%) amongst consumers aged over 66.

Minimum spends & time limits

Managing a surge of bookings is a challenge in itself, but with limited covers, restaurateurs and publicans also want to ensure the bookings are profitable, as nobody wants a table that's nursing two tap waters and a soup du jour to share, whilst turning big spenders away.

Having time limits or minimum spends in place for bookings is a good way for operators to mitigate these issues, and the good news is that over three quarters of you (77%) are happy to oblige, with 53% ready to keep this up until hospitality re-opens fully. What’s fascinating is that you are now more willing to settle for a time limit than you did over Christmas 2020, when that figure was 62%.

Your responses didn’t vary much by gender, however there was quite a difference in opinions between age groups. Only half of Gen Z said they’d agree to spend or time restrictions, whereas ages 36-55 were most happy to comply, with that figure reaching 82%.

You did point out however, that you expect a higher level or service with any additional booking terms, such as deposits or time / spend restrictions. A comment from one of you: “If I'm booking and paying a deposit, I expect service to be better than before!” – which is fair enough!

Covid Safety Tracker

Confidence amongst our guests is rising slowly but steadily. We have been keeping track how safe you feel at the idea of going out into hospitality venues.

Our most recent survey results reveal that the average figure is now 7.55 out of 10. That number was 7.51 over Christmas last year, and 7.07 in October 2020.

Summary

The survey results demonstrate that consumers are ready and waiting to go out into hospitality venues. They are aware of the enormous swell in bookings in the days after reopening, and therefore they are much more accepting of additional booking terms, however it is a fallacy to believe they are more lenient towards service issues, such as wrong orders or service delays. Customers have waited a long time to come back to their favourite locals, and expectations are exceptionally high – everything must be good, if not great. People are now used to pay-and-order apps and are eager to adopt any additional tech that makes their lives even easier, such as virtual waiting lists. Once they get used to this new feature, it’ll be a convenience they will come to expect – something that’s worth considering for operators.

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