The 20th March 2020 will probably go down as the darkest hour for UK hospitality venues when the British Government took the decision of ordering pubs, clubs and restaurants across the UK to close; and announced an unprecedented wage-support scheme to try to prevent a tsunami of job losses. Just as we were beginning to see a glimmer of light, this week’s curfews and new rules won’t come as good news for many hospitality operators.
Whilst there is much debate and argument on how to best contain the national and international spread of the pandemic; and when and how to deploy an exit strategy from lock down, one thing that most will unanimously agree on, is things will never be the same again.
Winners & Losers Is Nothing New. But the Pace of Change is.
There will be losers. There will be disruption. There will be a massive shake up of hospitality.
But there will be winners. The last few months have shown me first hand what ambitious and strategic operators are doing to not only survive and recover – but importantly how they are re-shaping traditional models with digital transformation from self serve technology through to creative new ways to engage with customers and make their offering more profitable and more appealing to customers.
From new starts, big brand players to independents, behind the scenes some really exciting stuff is happening! And the big opportunity for nearly all of them is, the tech is already proven, tested and ready-to-go.
Change is the Only Certainty
Businesses of all shapes and sizes have been forced to rapidly adapt to remote working and harness the power of collaborative unified comms at an unprecedented speed.
But what will it mean and how will it shape the near and long-term future for hospitality operators? Already, there has been a prolific rise of local independents working hard to change to new menus to enable home delivery, determined to survive this unprecedented threat. The creative thinkers who are already re-moulding how they do things and strategically planning their business in order to survive and thrive in a new era for hospitality.
Pulling Together to Weather the Storm
There will inevitably be winners and losers from this unparalleled tragic social and economic situation. And while we still sit in very uncertain times, watching our hospitality and local communities pull together in a way like we’ve never seen before, we are proud to see our clients, being the first ones to experience the extreme conditions, move so quickly and remain focused on trying their best to keep things working by changing what they do.
If I reflect on the last few months, what I’ve seen is a level of maturity in how operators and suppliers have worked together to help British consumers in lockdown in so many ways. From hotels making their venues available as potential hospital beds or providing free accommodation for the NHS workers required to move location; through to third party order and delivery Apps such as Just Eat and Deliveroo, quickly creating 30 days emergency support packages, slashing commissions and refunding commissions to help restaurants and take-aways better weather the corona virus crisis.
The hospitality sector are experts in over-coming challenges and reinventing themselves to stay relevant and successful. And right now, many operator owners and senior executives are focused on strategic creativity to embrace whatever the brave, new world entails.
Looking to the Future – Hospitality Tech
During the last few years, the hospitality sector has been working hard to implement technology and catch up with retailers in the customer’s desire for digital buying experiences, convenience, speed and customisation. From the growth in mobile apps, click and collect, self-serve kiosks and table tablets, through to the streamlining of our operations from back of house to inventory management through to advanced PoS and software applications.
Now more than ever, operators need to lean on this technology to increase staff productivity, reduce costs, drive revenue – and maximise on a far more tech savvy consumer across all generations.
Three Things We Can Expect to See
1) The Rise of Technology – With new consumer familiarity with technology, those operators who previously feared self-order kiosks and digital, tech driven guest experiences, feeling they were not right for their customers, will be more likely to trial and roll-out self-serve tech and mobile apps – which are only the start of whole new world of tech enabled customer experiences and revenue drivers. Over time, we can expect to see hospitality catch up with retail in terms of AI and augmented reality to enable a highly immersive, personalised and engaging meal ordering experience.
2) Rise of Dark Kitchen & Smaller Outlet Footprints – With pressure to reduce costs and a new consumer liking of restaurant home dining, Covid-19 will inevitably be a catalyst to the role out of many more dark kitchens up and down the UK. Equally, many new and existing ventures are likely to look for lower cost, smaller premise where they can both accommodate dine in customers and those customers that want to dine out at home. It will open up the opportunity for chefs to launch their own businesses at less cost than the pre-pandemic days; and with the right technology in place, enable them to expand and drive revenue for increased profit. No doubt, we will also see investment into new restaurant concepts driven by tech enabled efficiency and customer experiences.
3) Consumer Support for Local Independents – for the first time in a long time, the British public are now seeing how important it is to support their local hospitality and retail community. Going forward, we can expect to see consumers to have an increased loyalty to trade locally and support their local food services and restaurant businesses. Through these tough weeks, there has been a surge of appreciation for how hard these businesses are working provide for their customers and help keep some sense of normality.
Looking After Tomorrow
On top of dealing with the reactive, current Covid-19 situations, hospitality operators must be ready for life after this nightmare pandemic. It is important we all maintain a sense of optimism that there will be prosperous future for the hospitality industry.
For many of us, we have been pushed into a new “normal”. There will be no shortage of change to adapt. From looking to technology to sustain our profits and customer tastes, to shaking out failed concepts and models, change is the only guaranteed certainty.
Owners of operators large and small will need to re-evaluate processes and their supporting IT ecosystems to ensure commercial viability, relevance and scalablity.
I wish all my friends, clients, partners, associates and colleagues the very best during this tough time and look forward to seeing how our industry reshapes in the near and far future to go beyond the existing traditional operational approaches and the overall guest experience.