As bars, pubs, and restaurants reopen to the new world of social distancing, the hospitality industry is battling to stay alive.
According to UK Hospitality, revenue dropped by 87% between April and June of 2020 when compared to figures in 2019.
The introduction of the UK Government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme has reignited some consumer confidence by offering 50% off meals on certain days in August, but the largest steps taken are those by the businesses themselves. Here’s how businesses are creating a safe and enjoyable environment and what you need to know on your first corona-secure night out.
Adapting to keep safe
The biggest change to our post-lockdown-life has been the introduction of guidelines and precautions that dictate how we interact with our friends and family, especially those outside our social bubbles. Hospitality venues across the country have introduced policies to bar the virus from their establishments.
A time before we were prohibited from being within two metres of a total stranger seems like a memory of a world forgotten. If you were the type to enjoy rubbing shoulders at your local Rose & Crown, then the social distancing experience may appear to disappoint.
However, the measures to separate social groups have created an innovative approach to the traditional evening away from home. Bars and restaurants may require you to book a table in advance of arriving. After this, many venues are offering the opportunity to order your meals and drinks from the table using websites and mobile applications.
The first alcohol you will encounter entering any bar will be a large shot of hand sanitiser. You can expect a variety of types and flavours of this disinfectant – you will almost certainly find yourself with a list that ranks venues by the quality of their hand gel.
It’s almost like a classic western standoff: the moment the trigger is pulled on the contactless thermometer, you feel like your fate is truly hanging in the balance. If your temperature falls below the 37.8C mark, you’ve won this time. There is some extra reassurance knowing that bars and restaurants are excluding people with even mild coronavirus symptoms.
More for your money
Saving money is always a bonus when you’re dining out. At this time, bars and restaurants are competing with the security of a home-cooked meal. But the benefits of eating out have never been greater! It’s a welcome escape from the reality of lockdown, you can save 50% between Monday and Wednesday in August, and it’s almost certain to taste better than your usual pasta tray bake.
The negatives do hold some ground. Taxis may not be able to transport a group of more than three people, to support social distancing, so going out to the restaurant can be a fuss. There’s always the thought that you could always just make the meal yourself too. Plus, you can’t be certain that your waiter doesn’t have the coronavirus — it’s an unfortunate reality. Eating out can become a lottery of personal health, where the risk is maximised by the enclosed space of a restaurant.
However, the novelty of not having to cook your own food is a great appeal after months of lockdown. This novelty does not stretch to the drinks market for pubs and bars. Supermarket drinks have proved themselves to be a suitable replacement for the excitement of drinking out. Your friend’s back yard has become your new local. It’s the perfect beer garden: listen to the music that you have chosen, the beer bucket has your all-time-favourite beverage, and you won’t have to splash out on that £10 taxi home.
Of course, the feeling of a fresh draught on your top lip is irreplaceable. But the adaptations of hospitality venues have done more than just keep us safe. Mobile applications and contactless ordering have become the new normal, and in turn, the experience is more relaxed. No more competing for the waiter’s attention or waiting for the bill. The future of eating out is all in your hands — quite literally.
A different experience
Lockdown is not entirely to blame. The number of pubs has been declining for years, falling from 60,800 pubs to 47,600 between 2000 and 2018. The decline of the hospitality industry is not unique, and lockdown is not entirely to blame. The failings of the cinema industry threatened the livelihood of the humble outlet centre — high prices and the rise of the pirate copy forced cinema attendance to fall from its nostalgic plinth of post-war entertainment. However, cinema has seen a recent resurgence of faith, despite the fierce competition of streaming services. In 2018 there were 177 million admissions to UK cinemas, a number not matched since 1971.
How has this been achieved? Cinemas have recognised their strengths and the importance of their service. The rise of high-quality and serialised films has contributed to their successes. Furthermore, a real sense of escapism has realised what the streaming service can never provide. This is something that must be utilised moving on from lockdown. In addition, cinemas provide services that they have previously not done. Screenings of live theatre, opera, and ballet that are often secluded to the London West End are brought to the local northern cinema house. The films you’ve only seen on the small screen are brought back to life for limited rereleases, providing a chance for a new generation to fall in love with the classics of their parents’ or grandparents’ era. The cinema has become a whole new experience.
We must ask how pubs, bars and restaurants can apply this new way of thinking to drive their future successes. What can the hospitality industry provide for future generations that they can’t now do themselves?
Finding a new strength
Considering the success of cinemas, bars and restaurants may want to take inspiration from the recent success of the cinema house and how they have rejuvenated an industry. For instance, the achievements of streaming services to provide on-demand movies to their customers is serious competition, but the lack of distractions and a real sense of escapism that cinemas can provide holds a strong appeal for customers. Similarly, the affordable price of supermarket drinks creates difficulties for bars and pubs that provide the same line of beverages.
However, the introduction of drinks that are not easily accessible from the supermarket has created an appeal for unique experiences when drinking away from home. The rise of slush machines is a significant trend that appeals to the exclusive and quirky demands of the customer. It is something that is certainly not available in your average home. For bars, they can be an easy investment, adapting to the repeating drink trends throughout the year. The use of gin, rum, and non-alcoholic options appeal to new and interesting flavours and creations of slushie cocktails.
Focusing on gin, the resurgence of the drink into the mainstream in recent years has been utilised by bars and restaurants. However, successful venues are now profiting off wellness trends and the low-to-no beverages that have grown rapidly since 2019. Bars may want to consider more options for the non-drinking consumer, who may feel more ostracised in a drinking environment. The venue itself should be a source of escapism for everyone. Adaptions are needed to show the customer the variety of unique drinks and options available to them, making the experience more exclusive than opting to drink at home. It’s a great niche to tap into — especially at a time when the offering for non-alcoholic drinks is suitably lacking in the supermarkets.
Lockdown has created problems for everyone in the hospitality industry, including the customer. But with a new mindset, approach to unique experiences, and understanding the strengths of variety, pubs bars and restaurants can come through this with even more success!