After many months of focus on COVID safety regulations and restrictions, UK consumers want a return to what makes dining out great. Danilo Mangano, General Manager Europe at SevenRooms looks at how hospitality businesses can meet these expectations.
We are now beyond ‘Freedom Day’ in the UK, with the vast majority of COVID restrictions lifted. However, it is undeniable that the last year has resulted in some significant changes to the hospitality industry. Today, many venues are adopting a hybrid approach to these latest changes, with safety procedures remaining part of the dining experience for many and vaccine passports still being hotly debated. Yet, hospitality businesses aren’t the only place where changes have occurred. After enduring three lockdowns, changing restrictions and months of uncertainty, diners’ expectations have also evolved.
While much of the focus in the hospitality industry for months has been on adapting to keep customers safe, a recent SevenRooms report found that consumer priorities are shifting towards maximising enjoyability. The 2021 study found that the fundamentals of restaurant dining – quality of food and ambience – are paramount in making for a better restaurant experience. In fact, the number of people who say the atmosphere of a restaurant affects the enjoyability of their visit has increased by 10% since September 2020.
As diners are increasingly prioritising the restaurant experience, their attitudes towards COVID safety in hospitality venues have decreased in comparison to last year. This is understandable, given we have reached the ‘terminus point’ of 19th July and the strong progress made by the UK’s vaccination programme. Nevertheless, safety regulations have fallen down the priority list for consumers where hospitality venues are concerned, with just 11% saying they’d want a vaccine passport system in place to dine out. Added to this, 20% said they would feel comfortable if staff in venues didn’t wear masks ‘ over twice as many as in September last year.
Hospitality operators should also now be looking at how they can elevate the guest experience altogether to make it even better than it was in pre-COVID times. Restaurants that can create unique and personalised offerings to attract consumers and provide meaningful, stand-out experiences that encourage them to re-book will win. Consumers are craving the return of the experience-driven economy, and as the summer heats up, restaurants and other hospitality venues must be ready to capitalise on this.
However, they need to be ready to not only meet, but exceed, the changed needs of their guests. Success in this post-pandemic environment will rely on operators’ ability to deliver exceptional and meaningful experiences to guests whenever and wherever they are, and technology and customer data have a huge role to play in enabling them to do this effectively. With fewer resources than ever before – financially, operationally and staffing-wise – hospitality operators that leverage important insights about their guests will be able to do more with less.
Making use of guest management platforms that enable the ownership and capture of data can be vital in making the guest experience more memorable for guests. Venues should be using the information gleaned from on-premise diners to develop their knowledge of each individual guest, understanding their likes and dislikes, and where there might be opportunities for upselling or enhancing their experience. This could be as simple as presenting them with their favourite bottle of wine or sharing a bespoke offer for a favourite dish on the next visit – making the customer feel valued and helping to boost loyalty. This is critical, as it is far more expensive to gain a new customer than to retain an existing one, highlighting the value of repeat visits for a successful long-term strategy.
Furthermore, operators must leverage this data to stay connected to customers after their dining experience. Following up with a well-timed and relevant marketing email after a visit keeps the venue top of mind for customers looking to enjoy the experience again or to recommend to friends and family.
The options are endless for restaurants to use customer data and technology to personalise the experience to drive loyalty, repeat business and revenue. Being able to capture valuable insights and use these to build direct and meaningful guest relationships will be fundamental as we move into recovery mode and look to capitalise on what is sure to be an incredible summer.