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Fri 10th Jul 2020 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Nothing to fear but fear, customers will be key to success, and making digital ordering work
Authors: Paul Chase, Katy Moses and Nick Popovici

Nothing to fear but fear by Paul Chase

In his inaugural address as America’s 32nd president Franklin D Roosevelt, in a stirring piece of oratory, said: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror that paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

He was speaking at the depth of the Great Depression, when millions of Americans were unemployed and political leadership was desperately required to rescue the nation and the wider world from the economic abyss. I believe it’s no exaggeration to say we're at such a moment now. The economic harm already wreaked by lock-down will be as nothing compared with the tsunami of business closures and mass unemployment that will follow. At the centre of this crisis is a concatenation of political, scientific and individual perceptions of risk.

When the government decided to impose lock-down – initially to protect the NHS but then to protect the whole population from infection from what was initially seen as a deadly threat to everyone – it acted on scientific advice. Or so we were told. In fact, it acted on the flawed modelling of Neil Ferguson – a professor with a track record of wildly inaccurate predictions about numbers of deaths during previous viral outbreaks. “If you do nothing, half a million people could die,” was the advice. It’s hard to blame the government for its decision to lock down given its perception of the health and political risks if the modelling predictions were correct and they were perceived as failing to act. Anyway, governments around the world, with notable exceptions such as Sweden and Japan, were doing likewise.

But now the government must deal with the economic fallout from the political decisions it took based on its perception of health risks posed by covid-19. This involves the government passing the assessment of risk on to the public and individuals – and that in itself is a huge political risk if it leads to the much-feared “second wave”.

On Wednesday, chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a package designed to protect and create jobs and boost public confidence that it’s safe to venture out. It’s remarkable a government that only a few weeks ago was saying “stay home, save lives, protect the NHS” is now bribing the public to come out to restaurants and pubs for a taxpayer-subsidised meal. Sunak is that rare phenomenon – a chancellor with the “common touch” who knows how to do retail politics. Pictures of him serving meals in Wagamama after delivering his statement in the House of Commons was a calculated message – it’s official, it’s safe to go out.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds mounted a critique of the government’s package that was coherent and articulate but, when the Tories are offering a £30bn stimulus package, it doesn’t leave the opposition with much oxygen. The government’s efforts to support businesses and jobs throughout lock-down will result in a deficit of £300bn this year. Its stimulus package looks more like conventional demand management – but on a huge scale. Specific measures that help the hospitality sector are, of course, welcome but an increase in unemployment to three million or more looks inevitable. In the autumn, the chancellor will have to do more.

What has got lost in the noise is any clear idea of how the public calculates risk – and understanding this is crucial to building public confidence and re-establishing demand. So what do we know? Tess Wilkinson-Ryan, professor of law and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote this: “As states gradually reopen, seemingly simple judgments are likely to grow more fraught. What does six feet between people look like? The literature suggests I am more confident if I’m six feet away from a friend than from a stranger, that I’m more likely to blame people not of my race for standing too close, and that I overestimate my compliance with public health guidance but underestimate yours.

Researchers have studied the human tendency to discount preventable harms that arise from nature and to overreact to harms that arise from human action. The literature predicts people will take comfort when a coronavirus fatality is attributed to “underlying conditions” – for instance, a patient’s age or chronic maladies they don’t share – and will be tempted by the quick dopamine hit associated with shaming those who fail at social distancing.” (The Atlantic, 6 July 2020).

Future government messaging will need to emphasise this is a disease most likely to kill the elderly and infirm; the median age of death is 81; healthy people under 60 aren’t at significant risk of dying; and the mortality rate is about 0.1% of the population – similar to seasonal flu. When communicating and guiding the public’s perception of risk, it’s how you frame information that’s all important. With the Office for National Statistics announcing one in 3,500 people have covid-19 in England – about 14,000 out of a population of 49 million – will people eventually conclude we have nothing to fear but fear itself and that it really is safe to go out? 
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health

Customers will be key to success by Katy Moses

How was it for you? We’ve heard lots of mixed reviews and highs and lows about Super Saturday and reopening weekend. KAM research conducted on Monday (6 July) told us an impressive 28% of UK adults visited a pub, bar or restaurant during the weekend, while a further 17% plan to visit in the next couple of weeks.

The research also found that, as predicted, a significant proportion of the weekend’s footfall was driven by Generation Z and young millennials – 41% of those aged between 18 and 34 visited a pub, bar or restaurant.

It’s worthwhile pointing out only about 63% of venues actually reopened during the weekend. It’s also worth mentioning that despite the media’s best attempts to make reopening seem a massive liability and risk to life by showing a specific road in Soho where distancing was clearly not being followed, the majority of hospitality venues opened responsibly and with all guidelines adhered to.

A conversation with the chef at our lovely, independent neighbourhood bistro at the weekend revealed the team arrived an hour before shifts were due to start because nobody could sleep through excitement! The bistro was fully booked for dinner that day and seemed to have covered every angle in making its customers feel safe and welcome – sanitiser on entry; track and trace forms provided with sterilised pens on each table; cutlery and drinks handed to you on a tray; disposable tablecloths and napkins; separate entrance and exit; reduced menu (not in quality or flair); menu and wine list on the wall and about 20% fewer covers than usual. It was a safe and thoroughly enjoyable customer experience.

It was a slightly different experience in a bijou wine bar nearby. Distancing rules and sanitiser were in place but staff were clearly nervous and seemed unsure how to treat customers in the new normal. It was still a good, safe experience but a reminder all the signage and box-ticking in the world won’t make up for unsure service. If staff aren’t confident, the customer won’t be either.

All in all it was a successful first trip out. I felt safe, welcome and, importantly, had great food and drink, great service and a great time. Simply put, that’s what hospitality is all about.

However, that was just my own experience and KAM research conducted on Monday made for slightly grimmer reading. Almost one-fifth (18%) of those who visited at weekend said they wouldn’t return for a while and a further 36% who did return said they would continue to visit but not to the same extent as they were doing before lock-down.

It seems the experience for some wasn’t quite as they expected. Previous research from KAM showed one-third of people were less likely to return to pubs and restaurants after lock-down because they were concerned the experience would have “fundamentally changed”.

We all know atmosphere is key to an outstanding customer experience – three-quarters of customers think it’s the venue’s responsibility to ensure they have a positive and memorable experience when they visit – so the pressure is on.

KAM research shows that, predictably, making a customer feel safe is the number-one priority for venues at the moment but operators obviously need to ensure they are providing a fun, enjoyable experience too.

Communication is key in these first few weeks – and that shouldn’t be one way. Operators need to proactively ask customers for feedback on their first experience to ensure they can continue to improve their offer.

These first few days and weeks will be critical for operators as they welcome people back but it’s obviously going to be a long old road to recovery. As always, obsessively focusing on the customer will be the key to success.
Katy Moses is managing director of KAM Media
KAM Media is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

Making digital ordering work by Nick Popovici

Because of the restrictions and challenges of lock-down our industry, which so esteems its tradition and rituals, has suddenly had a wave of fast-paced innovation, experimentation and adaptation thrust upon it. As a result, we have seen digital ordering embraced widely across the casual dining, pub and quick service sectors in one form or another, be it click and collect, delivery, DIY home kits or mobile ordering. The very essence of what it means to be a restaurant has been challenged in an unprecedented (yes, unprecedented) way by these bizarre circumstances.

As many operators have discovered during this period, the benefits of a robust digital ordering system and strategy extend beyond simply flexible and low-contact fulfilment. You can genuinely transform a business by enabling greater knowledge and ownership of your customer base, wider collection of sales and operational data, and significant reduction of labour demand.

We have partnered with many operators as they experiment with digital ordering for the first time and have seen a lot of the key mistakes and unexpected subtleties that determine how successful digital ordering is in yielding its full financial and operational benefits. I wanted to share some of our insights with you.

Well-defined fulfilment flow
A stumbling block for many hospitality brands is failing to make their in-house experience adapt to new customer flows. This means figuring out where customers will stand while waiting for collection, whether all channels will be managed from a single EPOS, how customers will know when their order is ready and other small details that can make or break your fulfilment. It’s nigh-on impossible to get it right first time but plan, pay attention to what’s going well and what isn’t, and don’t be scared to try something different. We work with our partners to space-plan these flows and, even with our support, it usually takes a few tries.

Communicating the customer journey
Make it as clear as possible how customers can order from you and what they should do once they have. This depends on a user-friendly ordering platform with clear in-app messaging as well as clarity of signage in-store. Decals, arrows, lighting and barriers can all foolproof your customer journey. Take full advantage of social media and email marketing so customers know what to expect before they arrive. Ensure staff understand the customer journey too and can provide support and clarification when required.

Fulfilling orders efficiently
We’ve seen time and again that no matter the quality of your user experience or power of your brand, it’s a deal breaker to fail to stick to the unwritten contract of providing an order on time. Customers having a frustrating and time-consuming experience can hit your retention hard. Operators must find a system that allows them to effectively manage all orders and automate the transfer of data between ordering channels and kitchen to streamline the production process. These back-of-house aspects won’t be in your customers’ face impressing them but will guarantee they get their food hot and fast. Keep your throughput up in spite of social distancing.

Using your website and social media
As your customers and brand become increasingly digital-centric you need to ensure your digital presence is as up to date as your storefront, restaurant or menu. Customers want to find out when, what and how they can order from you and most will go online for that information. If you’re setting up click and collect, make sure it’s prominent on your website. If you’re working with Deliveroo, highlight it on your website. Too often we’ve seen operators set their digital channels live without posting on Facebook or Instagram or updating their website and being surprised the orders aren’t rolling in.

Training staff well
If staff don’t fully understand and trust your digital ordering system and new, tech-enabled flows they’ll backfire. Make sure all staff know what your customers will experience as well as potential areas of confusion or conflict. Customer adherence to social distancing is likely to vary wildly, be clear with your staff on how to engage with this and focus on soft skills to ease customers through the strangeness of our new normal. For many, operating with fewer staff will be necessary in the times ahead so be sure to hang on to staff members who can grow into brand ambassadors and differentiate the in-store experience for customers.

Digital ordering systems will undoubtedly be a lifeline for many hospitality businesses in the months to come and we’re honoured to be part of keeping this precious industry afloat. But beware, even the best technology can’t just be plugged in and left to single-handedly transform your bottom line. In fact, it can bring additional complexity and cost if not managed properly. By adapting your business in a holistic way that gives clarity to your customers and keeps your staff fully on board, you can unlock the potential of digital to face the future with greater confidence.
Nick Popovici is chief executive and co-founder of Vita Mojo

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