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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 28th May 2021 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Tech needs to be seamless; the fight is on for the commuter’s pound; mountains, molehills and customer stress points; from first visit to revisit – creating the perfect customer journey
Authors: Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott, Katy Moses, Amber Staynings
 

Tech needs be seamless by Glynn Davis

Having completed some chores the other day, I’d planned to grab a coffee while walking back home but then it suddenly dawned on me I could actually go into the pub and have a beer instead. A wave of power and opportunity washed over me – what would I drink, who might I meet in there, should I stay for a couple or even more?
 
It was early evening on a midweek night and, looking through the window, I could see lots of empty tables in Small Beer, in north London’s Crouch End, so a spontaneous visit for an hour or so was no problem. Since it was pretty quiet, and the bar’s name also reflects its modest size, it was easy to attract the server’s attention for my order of a pint of cool, fresh Hammerton N1 cask ale.
 
I’m absolutely no fan of table service in pubs because I feel it strips the life out of the place by removing the opportunity for people to congregate around these venues’ key feature – the bar. To me, it is the equivalent of the captain’s table on a ship where we envisage the most interesting characters are invited and they invariably have the most fun.
 
The other problem with table service, which has become apparent over recent weeks, is it greatly limits the capacity of venues when everybody has to be seated. Yes, I understand it is currently a strict covid-19 guideline but certain pubs are talking up the idea of insisting on table service, post-pandemic, which will surely impact their capacities negatively when you remove the opportunity to accommodate a throng of people stood at the bar.
 
This decidedly ugly potential future scenario played out all too clearly for me last week when attempting to book a table in a pub in the Angel area for a quick drink with my family before heading off for dinner at Austrian cafe-restaurant Kipferl in Camden Passage.
 
Using the booking facilities on the websites of five pubs, the end result was that two could only be booked if dining, one would not let me book for a time less than six hours away (incidentally I could also not book a table more than 30 days out), another was fully booked, and the final place had no facility to book a table at all. Yes, I did try to message directly on Twitter (I’m still waiting to hear back) and attempted to call a couple of others but they did not open until the evening so I received no answer. The upshot was that we didn’t go for a pre-dinner drink after all because my children are not too keen on trawling the streets to see if there is any room at the inn.
 
It’s good to see such technology is being implemented, but my experience on this occasion, and other times over this past year, suggests it is not being used particularly intelligently. My guess is that, possibly, all these five pubs could have squeezed us in for 45 minutes at my preferred time and taken my £20-plus but their systems were simply set up too rigidly.
 
The implementation of clunky technology and over-complicated systems has been a problem in many venues I’ve frequented during covid-19. I’ve been tripped over by QR codes, failed to download apps, berated my children for staring at their phones in a restaurant when they’ve actually been looking at the menu because no paper alternative was offered, accidentally over-ordered and, one time, the setting up of an account and password along with entering my payment details took longer than the supping of the pint I’d bought.
 
It will be imperative that pubs and restaurants iron out these sorts of problems because consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable and reliant on technology for ordering and paying. When you add in the massive issue of staff shortages then the tech is guaranteed to play an outsized role over the coming months.
 
And perish the thought, if we are moving into a world where more pubs have exclusion zones around the bar and dictate we remain glued to our seats, such technology will become even more critical to the smooth, economic running of venues. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be the first to storm the bar.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

The fight is on for the commuter’s pound by Ann Elliott

It’s been interesting over the past few weeks listening to human resource development departments and customers talk about hospitality in focus groups and in one-on-one conversations. There are some key themes that have emerged from these discussions.
 
1. The vast majority of customers expect to return to work for two to three days a week by the end of September, though some think that might not happen until 2022. This arrangement suits them and the lifestyles they have developed over the past 18 months, potentially providing better work-life balance. It also suits employers who can cut the size of their physical support offices, move them above pubs/restaurants or close them completely. It provides both parties with greater flexibility and freedom. It’s a win:win.
 
2. Customers think this change in working practices is for good and not just a post-pandemic reaction. It will, ultimately, lead to them using hospitality venues in different ways both at work and at home. They feel their days in “town” or wherever their workplace is, will be longer and more intense. They will try and fit more in, maybe staying later or starting earlier or both. They will be saving money by not commuting and that money can be spent then on upgrading their experiences when in town. They may want to treat themselves a little bit more than usual.
 
3. With their time in town being only 60% of pre-pandemic levels, the rota of places they use for breakfast or lunch, for instance, will have to change – brands will have to drop off. They don’t have the space for them all in a three-day week. Many people I spoke to are now working out which ones they will keep visiting and which ones they will lose, even if those choices and decisions are still subconscious at this stage.
 
4. This, in turn, means much greater competition for their custom. Supply has fallen by 10% (a rough estimate I know) but demand might be falling by as much as 40% if a five-day week becomes a three-day week in city centres. I don’t need to teach operators how to suck eggs but understanding customers, and how to retain them, is going to have to be central to strategy development for the foreseeable future. Not that it should ever have gone away, of course.
 
5. My sense is that customer expectations are high, their memories long. They don’t know, or care, about the issues the sector is having with recruitment, supply chain or Brexit. They want their favourite places to be just as they remembered them, if not better. I am not seeing much forgiveness for slower service, teams coming back from furlough, shorter menus or price rises. As a respondent said to me last week “if pubs are only paying 5% VAT, why do these prices feel higher than they were?”
 
6. There is a feeling that while these days at work might be longer, their working hours at home might also be longer. Work seems to have filled the time they were spending on the commute and they are working just as hard, if not harder, than they were in the office. There is no time for a long leisurely lunch in the pub up the road. They imagine they will still be using delivery and click and collect on the days when they are not in the office. Again, demand may fall off as the ratio of home versus office working changes but it’s certainly here to stay as long as operators choose to offer it.
 
Customers are ready and eager to come back to work in an office on the whole – if not just to have a change from the monotony of looking at the same four walls every day. They are keen and eager to use pubs, bars and restaurants too (with some hesitancy about safety). Their custom and loyalty is going to be a very precious commodity.
Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser
 

Mountains, molehills and customer stress points by Katy Moses

Well, it seems hospitality is well and truly back, or at least a significant proportion of it. Having been into a pub, bar or restaurant most days since reopening (for research purposes, obviously), I’ve been reminded of a phrase that an ex-boss once said to me: “People don’t trip over mountains, they trip over molehills.” Nothing could be more accurate when talking about customers and the hospitality industry right now.
 
For much of the past 18 months, our customers have been enjoying the “hassle-free” experience of eating, drinking and socialising at home (yes, many of them actually did enjoy it). One in three tell us they really enjoyed the less stressed environment, 29% enjoyed cooking for themselves and trying new foods (16%).
 
In fact, worryingly, despite many people’s enthusiasm for a meal or a drink out in our wonderful establishments, there are equal numbers who are finding it so easy to simply stay on the sofa. The top things that will put potential customers off leaving their house are bad weather, the hassle of getting to a venue and any kind of issue with booking a venue.
 
We teamed up with Zonal to carry out some eye-opening research this month that looks at the entire hospitality customer journey – from the decision to eat or drink out (or not) through to paying the bill. It found the extra time spent at home has given customers time to reflect on what frustrates them most about going out versus staying in.
 
I don’t have to tell you hospitality should be a welcoming, enjoyable and, certainly, stress-free environment – one that leaves your customers wanting to come back, time and time again. I also don’t have to tell you operators are facing huge challenges with regards to staffing, awful weather, no-shows and a whole lot more. Reopening has been far from plain sailing for most. But, unless we act fast to identify and rectify potential stress points for our customers, we risk compromising the customer experience. Clearly something we simply can’t do, especially as customer confidence is being rebuilt.
 
The new research confirmed the hospitality decision-making process is increasingly digitally driven, at virtually every customer touchpoint.
 
The preferred way to make a reservation is, unsurprisingly, digitally yet “difficulties in making a reservation” was the second highest reason given for customers deciding to stay home instead of going out. There is work to be done here. If making a booking isn’t simple then you’re losing customers.
 
Many people (33%) are even finding it stressful “trying to find somewhere new to go”. Customers now search digitally when deciding which venue to visit, with most people doing a “general internet search” (38%) followed by the Google’s “Near Me” search tool (25%) and then using hospitality review websites/apps like TripAdvisor (22%.) There is a huge opportunity for operators to either influence potential customers or risk losing them during the critical “research” stage.
 
And “freeing up staff” is critical in these current times – they’re hard to come by, after all. Customers are still generally unforgiving of poor service – almost one in two find it exceedingly frustrating waiting to get the server’s attention to pay the bill. This last interaction often impacts whether they happily skip out of the venue eager to return or gritting their teeth.
 
It’s not for everyone but mobile ordering and payment is now a more important factor when choosing a venue for an impressive 45% of the UK population. What, at first, may have been seen as a necessity for social distancing is now a legitimate tool for venues to streamline the ordering and payment process, while alleviating potential customer stress and freeing up staff to focus on other elements of service.
 
And I bring you back full circle to ask, are we tripping over mountains or molehills?
 
None of the above complaints are ground-breaking. Many are easily fixed. But, right now, we really do need to focus on the details. We are rebuilding our customer base. We are rebuilding customer and staff confidence. We are reminding people what they loved about hospitality in the first place.
 
There’s no getting away from it, despite the challenges we are facing right now, the industry will have to work harder than ever to provide the right experience to keep customers coming back and technology, no doubt, has an increasing role to play. Right now, every little detail and every tiny molehill counts.
Katy Moses is managing director of KAM Media
KAM Media is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

From first visit to revisit – creating the perfect customer journey by Amber Staynings

There have been many times during the past 12 months when hoping for a first visit (let alone the next) to a bar, restaurant, pub or cafe has been fraught with anticipation, mixed with hope, and then peril.
 
We’re ever the optimists here at Bums on Seats and love challenging the status quo. If there is an opportunity, we will drag it to the surface kicking and screaming for all to see and take full advantage of. However, under lockdown, these opportunities were (admittedly) far and few between. So, witness my delight and euphoria at receiving a “reopening” roadmap, even one that seemed so distant I am sure we all doubted its authenticity. But yes, it appears to be happening at last, and with that belief our beautiful paying public are already booking their favourite venues as far ahead as December. Many of our clients, and our “Bums Best Of” supply networks including Collins/Design My Night, and our partners, Zonal, are all reporting an increase in pre-booked covers of up 1,085% in the past four weeks.
 
We now know the hospitality bounce back is real
This leads me nicely on to the Bums on Seats latest industry-wide campaign (I am hoping some of you saw our “Take Out To Help Out” plea in January).
 
Firstly, let me take you back to 2020 to set the scene (No, I hear you scream – please not that). Bear with me because it’s imperative we revisit the lessons to be learned and which are still relevant for 2021.

When venues were allowed to open last year (remember that?) the focus for 2020 was customer safety, first and foremost. Did you know our sector had to manage more than 50 separate changes last year? Now I love change, but that’s one step too far for anyone. We know operators needed to embrace change and grow business resilience to survive but the pace of change meant management teams had to prioritise safety sometimes at the expense of good old-fashioned customer service. The focus for 2021 now can, and must, change back again to putting “bums on seats” and beating the competition by creating a unique reason to visit that is memorable, and which will, in turn, inspire multiple return visits.
 
You will need to be a destination; hence, my next campaign: “Next Visit Please”.
 
Good old-fashioned hospitality, pre-booked sales and guest experience is back. And, of course, if you ask me, they should never have gone away.
 
Our creative insight agency partners KAM Media allow Bums on Seats to use data and “intelligent” customer insights to enable us to base our recommendations on facts, not feelings, which is a little mantra of ours now.
 
In a recent survey of UK adults, 34% said they would return in April for outside dining/drinking and a further 26% would do so in May. So, as I am pretty good at maths, I know that’s 60% of customers who are seeking to return during May. Inclement weather may impact but I am counting on the determined customer such as myself (also a social smoker) who will be sitting outside with my colleagues and/or friends come rain or shine. The negative aspect to this finding, of course, is the 40% who are still not venturing out. The challenge will be to make up for lost footfall from tourism and business premises at least in the short term but let’s be realistic, working from home is here to stay as a continuing flexible option. This could begin to appear rather depressing, even allowing for the fact residential, local and rural pubs/restaurants won’t have as many challenges as city centres. Nonetheless, the challenge remains; we must all have a unique reason to visit, a visit that’s memorable so that each unique brand and venue is a desirable destination to guarantee the “Next Visit Please”.
 
So, let’s look at how you can gain that “Next Visit Please”.
Let’s start with the nine steps of your customer booking journey. Invest in tech and work with the right partners for your operation:

• Website: clear design and visuals of packages with optional bolt on extras
• Bookings: a booking system that’s optimised for maximum efficiency. The right booking system will facilitate a seamless and automated journey. Use packages, upsells and card verification on bookings to gain financial commitment at peak times
• Pre-arrival: actionable SMS and email reminders are easy ways to cancel to minimise no-shows
• Arrival: checking in, marking no-shows. Wi-Fi solutions to capture customer data, eg. Wireless Social
• Order & Pay: ability to order and pay at the table, multiple orders, running totals. Feeds into EPOS, eg. Zonal
• Feedback: follow-ups and incentives to review visit, eg. Yumpingo
• CRM: all customer interaction to feed into the CRM. Use this data to drive repeat visits and customer retention, eg. Airship
• Loyalty: gift cards, hierarchy of guests based on visits/spends, gift experiences, eg. Toggle
• Re-book incentives: use data from CRM and Wi-Fi to drive repeat visits and create personalised offers or highlight dynamic pricing options to drive off-peak trade

You will be able to exploit and accelerate many opportunities for sales if you focus on the steps outlined above, including:
• The birthday celebration
• The “missed” milestone occasion
• The micro wedding
• Summer socials of all shapes and sizes
• Christmas and new year – get these ready for May 
• Family meet-ups
• Brunch – do it better
• Friends’ socials
• Office socials
• Work clubs for those who want to escape daytime working from home
• Corporate meetings
• The Euros and sport
 
Create unique experience-based packages that are matched to key trends and calendar opportunities this year. This will drive the reason to visit and increase pre-booking by offering the right packages to increase pre-orders and reduce no-shows. 
 
Provide a memorable and unique experience that matches the customers’ wants and needs to drive your customer retention and provide return on investment.
 
So, my friends of hospitality, we can all thrive in 2021 and turn our lessons from 2020 into a positive and successful drive for profitability and happiness.
 
I’ll see you very soon.
Amber Staynings is chief executive of Bums on Seats
Bums on Seats is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

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