As the hospitality sector prepared for readiness to reopen from the 4th July, CGA and Fourth’s ‘Pre-Opening Nerves’ webinar delivered vital insights from both operators and hospitality consumers. Here are ten of the key highlights and considerations as the sector gets back to business.
- Phased reopenings
The new Business Confidence Survey from CGA and Fourth provides the clearest evidence yet that the sector’s reopening will be gradual. Nearly 71% of leaders are planning for a phased rather than mass relaunch, and only 12% will reopen their full estate. The staggered return mirrors the cautious approach of consumers, with CGA’s latest BrandTrack survey suggesting that 19% of consumers (nearly ten million people) are likely to visit venues as soon as they reopen. The BrandTrack findings reveal that 25% of consumers do not feel comfortable to return yet, and 33% will only do so if they are confident that the necessary precautions are in place.
- Cautious optimism
The Business Confidence Survey hit a record low in the immediate aftermath of the lockdown in April, when only 15% of leaders felt optimistic about the next 12 months for their business. Three months later, that figure has now doubled to 32%, and those that feel optimistic about the market in general has trebled, from 5% to 16%. The data revealed that food-led businesses are generally feeling more optimistic than drink-led businesses, where solutions to safety challenges will likely be harder to implement.
- Some permanent closures
As operators get a gage on consumer demand as they reopen limited sites they will need to evaluate which sites —if any—that they will keep closed. On average, sector leaders are predicting that closures will represent 8% of managed estates and the number of leaders who do not plan to permanently close any sites has increased from 37% in April to 43% by the end of June. A key contributing factor for this uptick in confidence is the government’s move to halve distancing requirements from two metres to one, which has raised the capacity of outlets from 30% to 70%. CGA has estimated that 145 million more pints of beer could be sold as a result.
- Rent battles
The Business Confidence Survey highlights rent negotiations and settlements as the biggest challenge for operators right now. Two thirds of respondents said that they had only been able to reach agreement about rents with fewer than half of their landlords, and half were not confident that the government’s code of practice for tenant negotiations would ease challenges here. As in most retail sectors, rents are set to be one of the fundamental concerns over the coming months.
- Motivated but anxious staff
As many staff return to work, a CGA and CPL Learning survey of hospitality professionals indicated that 69% were satisfied with the level of support they received during lockdown. Many are looking forward to returning to the frontline, but 65% remain concerned about their short-term job security. The Business Confidence Survey suggests substantial job losses are ahead: 67% of leaders anticipate laying off staff rather than bringing them back from furlough, with average losses anticipated to be around 21% of all staff.
- A watch-and-learn approach
Joining the CGA Fourth Business Confidence Survey webinar as a speaker, Loungers CEO Nick Collins explained how the business had been preparing to relaunch Loungers, and admitted: “Reopening the estate has been a lot more work than closing it down.” Loungers are reopening nearly 30 sites on Saturday 4th July and another 30 on Wednesday 8th July, with the rest following in weekly batches into August. “It will allow us the opportunity to learn from mistakes, train our teams well and make sure they’re prepared,” he said. All sites will for now retain their usual opening hours. Collins added that effective communication with staff has been a key priority throughout the pandemic. “We took the approach from day one to be really honest with them… it’s our responsibility now to explain how we’re going to keep them safe—that’s really important.”
- Focus on technology
Back of house systems, apps and other technology will have an important role to play in operators’ return to work. James England, Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at Fourth reflected on the focus of many operators on booking, ordering and payment solutions, and the Health Survey app Fourth customers are using to get their team safely back to work. Nick Collins shared that Loungers are preparing to roll out an order-at-table app for the first time, despite previously being sceptical about putting technology between staff and customers. “Coronavirus has forced our hand… It’s a bit of a leap into the unknown for us, and it’ll be fascinating to see how our customers respond to it.”
- Supply chain pressure
The Business Confidence Survey highlights that businesses have been able to quickly mobilise to reopen. This in part is due to the support they have received from their supply chains, with 21% of leaders saying they have confidence in all of their suppliers, and 62% saying they have confidence in some of their suppliers. Whilst this confidence is positive, the supplier network urges caution in these uncharted waters, and is conscious that supply and the ability to deliver will come under pressure. A proactive approach is therefore encouraged. Rather than expecting the same availability and service as prior to the pandemic, operators should communicate with their suppliers to ensure that access to ingredients, products and equipment isn’t compromised in the weeks ahead.
Prior to the pandemic, CGA’s BrandTrack research showed that hygiene and cleanliness ranked fifth on the list of considerations for people going out to eat or drink, but it has now become the top consideration. “Consumers really want to trust that venues are looking after them and staff… there’s a huge bulk of consumers who need reassurance,” said CGA’s Director of Food and Retail Karl Chessell. For now, the non-negotiable demands are spacing and cleaning, while table service, tech-enabled ordering and payment and PPE are desirable. Precautions such as disposable cutlery, temperature checks and perspex partition screens are considered off-putting. Nick Collins said it was vital to communicate to staff and customers the hygiene protocols implemented. “So much of this is about perception. It’s so important to be seen to be taking all the precautions that people will expect.”
With so much uncertainty around consumer demand to eat and drink out post-lockdown, the Business Confidence Survey reveals widespread concerns around frequency and spending levels, and the impact this will have on profits. Karl Chessell reflected “it’s going to be a long, hard road back for the sector”. As we adjust to the new normal, being agile and flexible will be key. Some operators are looking to increase revenue from deliveries, meal kits and retail products and will be looking at and responding to dynamics like shifting dayparts and the increased demand for local businesses. Positively, the BrandTrack findings indicate that there is considerable consumer appetite for operators that can deliver the right balance of safety, experience, quality and value. As one respondent put it: “Get ready for us and we’ll be back soon—it’s been far too long.”
The CGA Fourth Business Confidence Survey is based on responses from nearly 100 leaders working at CEO, MD, Chairman, Director or other senior management level. The survey was carried out in late June 2020.
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