Recovering from the Pandemic Hangover

How’s your Covid Hangover?

Outdoor terraces are open, and the sunshine and sense of freedom from restrictions lifting has tempted many to overindulge on during their first forays back into the welcoming bosom of hospitality.

The ‘one too many’ suffering for customers is mercifully short-lived, however for hospitality & leisure businesses the hangover will take much longer to recover from.

Enough to give you a headache…..

A snapshot of the financial impact on hospitality of the Pandemic makes uncomfortable reading:

  • £200m lost revenue every week of lockdown.
  • £2bn of unsettled rent debt
  • £3bn of CBILS loan debt

Although these figures are sobering, the hospitality landscape has changed dramatically, and some of the changes may be for the better…

Profit Opportunities

There is a real empathy amongst consumers for the hospitality industry and an appreciation of the pain that has been inflicted by Coronavirus on this valued sector.  Research indicates that after being forced to miss so many celebrations, consumers are now very focused on making every-day an occasion.  There seems to be a real move from deal to quality and experience led, and a desire amongst consumers for trust, authenticity and traditional hospitality.

And let’s face it there are lots of operators who are now no longer in the market-place.  New ventures will soon be springing up, but now is the time to really shine and make sure that profit opportunities are maximised as venues open up again.

With this new mood amongst the public, it a great opportunity to move away from promotions and discounts if this was something relied upon pre-pandemic.  Repositioning the offer to focus on great quality, and delivering the food, drink and experience that customers have really missed is enough to tempt most to get out and spend.

Consistent quality, great tasting and well-presented food is what makes customers happy.  Too much choice is overwhelming and unnecessary.  Now is the time to rationalise the menu and really make sure the margins are right.  It’s surprising, but so many operators don’t have accurate costings for their dishes.  A more manageable menu means there can be opportunities for efficiencies in the kitchen, and of course less wastage too.  Fewer choices are perfectly fine as long as the quality is great.

Bums on Seats 

After no trade for so long it is vital for operators maximise their covers.  So many projects have been conducted during lockdown to make the most of all available space ready for re-opening, including growing and improving outdoor terraces where possible.

Creating more space and an outside option is a good move for the medium term, as well as adhering to social distancing guidelines, many consumers still feel uncomfortable getting too close to others, and this sentiment may still be around for quite some time.

Making booking easy, ideally through multi-channels is important, but now could be the time to introduce taking a deposit for bookings too.  ‘No Shows’ can cripple a business when it is just making the first steps to recovery.

Consider whether a per person dining fee, or per table credit deposit would work best for your venue.  Being clear on time allocations for tables, or introducing early and later sittings are measures that can really positively impact revenues.

Customers have missed the social contact and interaction of hospitality and that includes their interactions with the staff, not just meeting their friends and family.

Making sure teams are primed to offer warm and welcoming service, plus encouraging team members to let their personality shine through is a sure way of standing ahead of the competition, and something that is not easy for others to replicate.

Some customers may still be feeling a bit apprehensive about being out and about again, so making a real effort to make them feel really at home pays dividends.

Now is an opportune time to put in place some simple sales training.  If front of house teams can get first drink orders out quickly then customers are much more likely to order another round.  Suggesting appropriate side dishes, recommending dishes from personal experience, and timely dessert and coffee order taking can make a massive difference to per table spend.

 Spreading the Word

Often bars and restaurants are so busy focusing on serving customers that they forget to communicate about what they have to offer.

So many hospitality businesses have a database of customers but don’t utilise this at all. Letting loyal customers know about what is going on is a no brainer, whilst being able to segment by customer interest is a great way of tailoring messages to those you know are keen on wine tasting dinners, guided walks or country mini-breaks.

A website and online presence is the shop window for a business – Can people find you?  Do you come up in searches for people visiting an area looking for somewhere to eat and drink?

Does your digital presence capture the personality and appeal of your business and encourage people to book and visit?

Offering gift vouchers and gift experiences is a straight-forward way to increase revenues, plus can introduce a new customer base to the business. Online sales can be added to the website and provides a revenue stream even when the business is closed or staff too busy with service to answer the phone.

As we move towards indoor opening on 17th May and what we hope is a renaissance for hospitality and leisure, making seemingly small adjustments to operational, sales and marketing strategies can have big impacts on profitability and the speed of post-pandemic recovery.  Let’s look forward to when the Covid Hangover is a distant memory and we can raise a glass to positive times again – Cheers!


Written by: Sarah Brookfield-Almond