Alison Taylor, Managing Director

4th July will forever hold new significance in the UK calendar as the day that lockdown restrictions were eased for the hospitality sector. Hotels, restaurants, pubs and cinemas now have just over a week to finalise risk assessments and get organised to open their doors again under the new 43-page government guidance for safety.

While the public’s response to the relaxing of rules is generally excited anticipation, industry response is mixed, and understandably so.

In past weeks we have seen some wonderful examples of creativity and innovation with businesses finding ways to stay engaged with their customers: hotels delivering spa kits to people at home; family restaurants offering games and activities to keep children entertained; theatres streaming productions online; restaurants releasing ‘secret’ recipes for home cooking.

Despite all this, the catastrophic impact on so many hospitality businesses of sudden lockdown in March will leave a deep scar.  Some businesses have sadly closed for good while others, which have so far weathered the storm, are now considering a long list of new worries and challenges.

Do they move heaven and earth to open, within the guidance, on 4th July, and run the risk that they may be forced to close again for two weeks, without notice, under the Test and Trace scheme?  If the high-street queues from last weekend are anything to judge by, I have no doubt that people will be flooding out of their homes on Saturday 4th.  But, looking at data from the USA and China, it is quite possible that the UK ‘R’ rate will then rise and the chances, therefore, of the infection finding its way into newly opened restaurants, pubs and hotels is higher than some business owners are prepared to risk.

Takeaway and delivery services have been popular in recent weeks and a significant number of restaurants have found a new revenue stream by offering a limited menu for guests to consume at home.  For a proportion, I suspect, this will be the middle ground they will continue to occupy, while they wait to see how their competitors fare.  Either way there are risks for business and decisions to be made based on weighing up of best and worse case scenarios, with little scientific evidence to go by.

One thing which is an absolute given for all in the hospitality sector is that if businesses are to keep their customers’ loyalty for when, finally, they are able to resume ‘normal’ operations, they must keep communicating with them.  Silence is not an option. Neilsen studies show it can take up to five years of consistent brand building to recover from an extended ‘dark period’ of communication, so businesses would find themselves in relative start-up mode again.

Businesses that plan to open their doors to the public on 4th July need to make sure that customers know they will be open and encourage bookings to make it financially worthwhile.  They also need to make sure that customers know what to expect when they arrive – no matter how much preparation the team puts in beforehand, the experience will not be what customers remember from before lockdown.  It may still be thoroughly enjoyable but prior warning of what will have changed and the safety measures the business has put in place will go a long way to easing customers into savouring the experience. Through an intelligent approach to communications, businesses which maintain brand equity by adjusting their activities—even if that means simply adding COVID-related brand awareness messages to existing campaigns—will be in a much better position for recovery.

Businesses that decide not to open, or to stick with their home delivery/takeaway service for now also need to make sure their customers know what decision they’ve made and why.  If customers have enjoyed their service before, they’ll understand the reasons for remaining closed.  Not everyone will want to venture out and for the many, who are still shielding elderly or vulnerable family members, the occasional delicious food delivery will remain a God-send.

Either way, in all the excitement, it will be those pubs, restaurants, hotels that ‘shout’ loudest and are heard above the crowd that will get their businesses moving fastest again.  Despite masks, visors, gloves and disinfectant, there are still many ways that businesses can make their particular style of hospitality, on and after 4th July, extra special and enticing.

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