There is no denying that the past few months have been some of the most stressful for the hospitality sector. Many businesses have had to lay off a lot of employees, and some have had to close their doors indefinitely.
Over the past month, the government has been running the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme which has helped many businesses encourage their customers to come back to the dining out scene. Together with people taking ‘staycations’ instead of traveling abroad, it has meant that businesses have seen an upturn in their customers. However, with the government scheme ending and other countries now opening up to tourists again, the next few months will be a real test.
So, what happens next for hospitality?
The Perfect Storm
As people are trying to get back to normal and schools return, there are many new challenges for the hospitality sector. Many people are still reluctant to return to their normal shopping and eating habits, and this means fewer shoppers around that can pop in for a coffee or a meal.
With lockdown leading to large scale job losses, some families are finding themselves in a tight financial situation. The disposable income that these people had to eat out for dinner or lunch is no longer available.
As we move into the autumn months, the nights will start to draw in and the temperatures drop. This means fewer opportunities to eat outside, which many customers prefer in the current social distancing climate.
All of these elements together have caused the perfect storm and put more stress on businesses. How can the hospitality sector recover from these hurdles and encourage more customers to eat out?
Many restaurants and cafes now have an outside area where customers can eat in the summer. However, as autumn and winter arrive, this can become problematic.
One solution is to add patio heaters to your outside eating areas. These come in a variety of configurations from free standing ones to those that fit under canopies.
Patio heaters will enable you to use your outside seating areas longer by creating a more comfortable environment even as temperatures drop. You might also want to add some fences or plants to stop cold air from blowing around the area, and adding a canopy will help to trap the hot air generated by the patio heaters.
Although these heaters might not allow you to use your outdoor area all year round, they will be good for those milder days and allow to maximise seating capacity.
Change of Menu
As the weather gets colder, people tend to start wanting hearty meals and more comfort food. If this is something that you are not already serving, then consider a winter menu where you can add some of these dishes.
By adding some seasonal ingredients, you may be able to reduce outgoing inventory costs by using produce that's in abundance and therefore a little cheaper, and you may even be able to find local suppliers that can provide them. This will also help your local community, and be something you can proudly advertise to your customers.
For drinks, you can start to introduce hot chocolate or other warming drinks that will be comforting to your customers, and make them want to come in.
Although many businesses are reluctant to return to the days of special offers, there is perhaps a good opportunity to entice customers that are now looking for bargains.
There is, of course, a balance to be maintained so that you can continue to make a profit, but working out where you can place enticing special offers will help to get customers through the door. From that point, they are more likely to spot something else they might want or recommend others to visit your business.
The important part of special offers is advertising. This doesn’t have to cost money, you can post on your social media and link it to relevant hashtags to reach your customers.
Keeping Guests Informed
Customers are still concerned about COVID and how safe it is to return to shopping and eating out. That is why it is important to regularly update your customers on what you are doing to keep them safe. Post pictures of your cleaning stations on social media, or the seating areas. Do a walkthrough and put it on your YouTube channel if you have one.
Creating posters and having them on display outside will also show your customers that you are taking their safety seriously.
Cost Cutting Measures
To help save some money while your customers are returning, you can put in place some measures that will reduce your costs and also allow more people to eat.
Reduce Food Waste
Many companies are offering a reduced menu at the moment. This not only means they can have fewer staff in the kitchen to observe social distancing, but it also means they have less food waste because of fewer dishes and lower customer numbers.
Alternatively, creating dishes that make use of every part of foods is a great way to get maximum value for money from your stock. Try to use 'nose to tail' recipes where every element has it's use, whether forming the main part of the dish or simply being used to make delicious stocks.
Also consider portion sizes. Whilst you need to make sure customers get their money's worth, it's futile serving large portions that no customer will ever finish. If there are any items on the menu that consistently come back with food left on the plate consider reducing the amount you serve, making your ingredients stretch further and minimising the amount of food that ends up in the bin.
Cook Larger Portions
This sounds contradictory when trying to reduce food waste but by increasing the amount of food that you cook at one time, you can have fewer chefs in the kitchen to maintain social distancing. It is a good idea to do this with the most popular items on the menu so that you know it should get used. Pre-preparing extra portions is a great way to save time. You will be able to serve your customers quicker, so there will be a faster turnover of customers through your restaurant. This will compensate in some way for the reduction in seating you might need to observe to keep a safe distance.
A flaw of cooking larger portions is keeping it fresh. One way you can keep food in premium condition for longer periods is by using a holding cabinet designed to keep foods heated at safe temperatures and in optimum condition to preserve freshness. The Evereo made by Unox is a ‘hot fridge’ that can keep food at 63 degrees for days without any compromise to the quality of the dish. This means the food is safe and ready to serve when needed. It also means less food waste and fast service.
By incorporating these measures, you can start to build the confidence of your customers, give them what they need to feel safe and hopefully continue to build your business through this new era for the hospitality business.