Written By Simon Cromack
What happens post Covid-19 – Phase 1 ‘a limp to normality’, how do you smile through a mask?
When we dust off the cobwebs, switch on the lights, polish the glassware, clean the beer lines, layup the tables, turn on the stoves, prepare the days specials, open the doors and ………………………….., what then, what should we expect in ACT 2?
Will our loyal customers rush back to spend their likely diminished savings or reduced earnings as frequently as they did before COVID-19? Even with our renewed passion for delivering the ultimate in guest service experience, after a well needed break from the coal face, it is unlikely we will be met with flocks of the socially starved, compelled to leave the restraints of their 4 walls at the very first opportunity, or if we do, will it be short lived?
Let’s face it, with the looming restrictions being discussed at government level to ensure the safety of customers and indeed our brilliant staff during their potentially or should I say literally sterile experience with us (read on), a stampede to cross the threshold is more likely be a gentle stroll. Of course, these rules and regulations are in everyone’s best interests and include: social spacing; limited capacities (possibly 50%); screening off tables and staff wearing face masks. I get it that these stipulations are based on ‘following the science’ (which by the way according to Brian Cox, isn’t a thing!), and safety comes first but let’s face it, being counted in to your local village pub by the newly appointed doorman, who used to be the pot wash, to then be greeted by the manager who you barely recognise behind the mask, to finally being guided to your usual table having weaved your way past a load of oddly placed planters and screens carving the room into isolated dining spaces, so you may enjoy your experience in silo, is not particularly conducive to a repeat visit, or at least not as frequently as PC (pre COVID-19).
So yes, there may be a spike in foot fall to enjoy some much needed social engagement, (at a distance of course) but after the initial excitement has dispersed, the flood may reduce to an irregular trickle.
We know that a majority of food & drink businesses need to operate at a capacity over at least 60% to breakeven, in some cases 80%. So, the simple maths tells us that we cannot survive at 50% capacity based on the same operating model. Opening the doors during a gradual approach to the lifting of the lockdown albeit a sensible one for the health and wellbeing of the public, is not really a compelling one for hospitality owner/operators.
Of course, our best chance to ride the storm is to change our operating model however, this in itself presents us with challenges. Some bigger operators will consider reconfiguring the footprint of their kitchens so there’s no crossover. They may look at tech innovation for ordering food or paying the bill without the need for human contact, or perhaps investing in smaller tables so you can slightly increase capacities whilst adhering to the 2-3m rule. BUT, what about smaller independent operators who will struggle to make any of these changes due to financial and resource limitations. The other elephant in the room is labour costs, if we’re not operating at full steam, will the government still allow us to hibernate half of our staff in the furlough scheme?
So how can we support smaller independent businesses with simple innovations to help them mobilise a profitable business albeit with reduced revenues.
Start with some baseline adjustments and limit the touchpoints during your guests experience. Below are a few examples as to how you may consider doing this, as well as some general good housekeeping suggestions:-
- Go contactless, no cash. Promote this through your social media channels (inc any reservation platforms), signage on arrival and verbally if guests call through.
- Order in advance, for those booking a table. Place a menu on the table confirming their choices. This can apply to wines too. Be creative with the menu design adding to the tabletop presentation and overall experience. Perhaps add a quote too.
- Create a new menu ‘small selection, big on ideas’. Look to create a smaller menu, to limit procurement, ingredients and prep time. One option would be a selection of small plates to start, with a set price for 2, 3, 4, or 5. Consider big plates to share for the main (shared only at your table, in case that wasn’t blindingly obvious!). This adds to experience as well as the stage and showcase at the table.
If however you are trying to reduce the size of the table tops, then perhaps a small menu of the pick of your best hero dishes is the way forward.
- Buy local and buy British. Subject to cost, try and buy local and revise your supply chain. COVID19 has allowed many households the time to reflect on how they are stocking their fridges and cupboards. Many farm shops, cottage food businesses and innovators are delivering to people’s doors, and overall the general public are becoming inspired to put more interesting dishes on the table, and in many cases are turning a hand to baking and other types of cooking. If the numbers work, your guests will be thrilled to support a business helping the growth of the local economy.
- Collection point. Create a service pass in the dining space, for guest’s to collect their dishes.
- Face masks. Who says these have to look intimidating and sterile. Challenge the team to design facemasks using colourful fabrics. Perhaps facemasks won’t be necessary but if they are let’s make them stand out for the right reasons and add to the experience!
- Sittings – Set dining slots for example 11.45am to 1.15pm, 1.30pm to 3.00pm and 6.30pm to 8.00pm, 8.30pm to 10pm.
- Inject the space with character. As we will likely be cutting the usual headcount in half, we don’t want our pubs & restaurants feeling like soulless dining rooms. Make sure the environment feels spot on, have you got the right level of music, how about the lighting and temperature? Add candles to the table and other parts of the room. Will fresh cut flowers add to the tables look and feel?
- Shout about your spotlessly clean and hygienic credential. Guests will want to know you mean business when it comes to their safety and wellbeing. Highlight your values and processes to keep the space clean and sterile by signposting messages throughout the business, be it on the menu’s, posters on the walls or blackboards, as well as via all your media channels. Hygiene is the new 5* rating, it’s is everyone’s right. A good friend of mine respected in the industry came up with a new meme describing exactly this, a powerful saying that will become extremely relevant in the coming months. Alas it is only fair I allow him the right to give it airtime on all SM channels!!!
- Zoning for pubs and bar in particular with outside space. If we are fortunate enough to have restricted opening towards the end of the summer, it’s important you’re ready to activate this space when the weather allows. Think about the ordering process for drinks, make sure there are areas obviously zoned, and direct guests to those areas, and bring their drinks to a collection point, using the bar solely for dispensing purposes
The above ideas are not exhaustive and are just a snapshot as to what may be possible depending on the outlet you operate. One thing is for sure, you need be confident you have done everything possible to make people believe your premises is a compelling reason to go out.
The landscape of our industry is changing daily, and to an extent we are still speculating as to exactly how we will operate once the lockdown starts to lift. Every business is different and there are no formulaic solutions we can copy as a standardised approach. The support our industry is showing for one another is heroic and long may it continue. Let’s hope the government continues to support our industry, and goes further with more initiatives to help us open the doors as and when the time allows. Clearly there is more need to be done.
I’m always up for chatting through ideas, further thoughts and innovations, just message me and we can fix up a time.
Best of luck