Guest Blog: Conor Shaw, CEO of workforce management experts Bizimply

Conor Shaw Bizimply CEO
Conor Shaw, CEO, Bizimply

GMs must be front of house to reassure customers and staff post-lockdown

The best hospitality operators definitely took a ‘glass half full’ approach when lockdown was imposed and looked for the opportunities in a situation that was beyond their control, rather than railing against it. Enforced closure allowed for the reflection and review that are hard to make time for when you’re running a busy restaurant, and the operators who made sure their teams used that time wisely rather than in front of Netflix are undoubtedly the ones who are now coping best with the challenges of trading in a post-COVID world.

We’ve just conducted a survey of our customers, to understand their plans and expectations for their business, as they emerge from lockdown. The 92 responses received from restaurants, bars, coffee shops, pubs and hotels in the UK and Ireland provide an interesting snapshot of operator sentiment across the sector. Here are some of the key findings:

Some businesses expect to wait before reopening: although most expected to be trading again by the end of July, 15% are waiting until later in the year, or even early 2021. Time will tell which operators made the better decision – those who rushed to reopen, or waited patiently for a clearer view.

Trade is down, customer numbers the main challenge: of the businesses who have reopened, 73% said trade is worse than pre-lockdown, 14% are finding it better, and 13% about the same.  The biggest challenge around reopening was customers not coming through the doors, cited by 41% of respondents, followed by reducing numbers to comply with social distancing (33%). Supply chain interruptions were mentioned by 28% and organising safety measures by 22%.

Looking beyond ‘business as usual’: the majority of respondents (67%) have researched options other than ‘business as usual’ for trading after they reopen. Offering takeaways (60%) or delivery (46%) were cited, as well as ‘radically reduced’ customer numbers on the premises (47%). It will be interesting to see whether customers’ ‘lockdown habit’ of ordering food from restaurants to eat at home will persist now that they can dine out again, or whether the uplift in takeout and delivery was just because they had no other option.

Financials the biggest worry: Almost half (46%) of businesses said they were worried about whether they would be able to pay staff and suppliers, and a similar number are concerned they won’t have enough customers (44%). Getting staff back to work was a worry for 35%, with similar numbers anxious about their own and their family’s health.

Clarity is needed on the Government’s guidelines: 37% of respondents were confused by some aspects of the official advice. Issues cited included how to deal with customers refusing to comply with social distancing rules; how to manage safe use of customer toilets; how many staff could work together.

The overriding theme from the survey responses was uncertainty. Operators are unsure about many things: customer numbers and revenue, staff behaviour, customer compliance with the new rules and how to diversify their business to make it more ‘future proof’. On top of which there are more macro concerns like second waves of COVID-19 and local lockdowns.

Dealing with uncertainty requires strong leadership and now, more than ever, operators need to make sure they have the very best GMs running their sites. The GM is the key to building the staff and customer confidence on the ground that’s so vital for business recovery.

At Bizimply we are big advocates of ‘letting managers manage’, and that’s never been more important than today. For a GM to inspire confidence, they need to be highly visible, front of house, reassuring staff and customers that their health and safety are paramount. If GMs can help to overcome the understandable anxieties that everyone will be feeling in the weeks after reopening, then staff will feel motivated and start loving their job again, and customers will relax and start enjoying their visits to the pub or restaurant.

Behind the scenes, we’ve been working to equip operators with the tools they need to trade in this new world. Our workforce scheduling tools make it easy to create rotas around the staff ‘bubbles’ that are now advised to minimise contact between team members, and staff are able to log in and out of their shifts contactlessly by using a stylus or mobile phone. The right technology can play an important role in helping GMs and their teams to overcome the COVID-19 challenges and rebuild their businesses.

Life is probably not going to feel like ‘normal’ for a while, but the hospitality sector has been adapting for centuries and the best operators will, we’re sure, find a way to deliver a memorable experience for their customers.

 

 

Reopening pubs will get our lockdown drinking back in check

One of the perhaps unsurprising impacts of lockdown has been a change in our drinking habits. Recent research from Drinkaware shows furloughed workers and people now working from home rather than an office admit to having had a drink earlier in the day, and drinking on days they wouldn’t have before the pandemic. Why not pour a drink as soon as you close your laptop at 5.00?  And with every day seeming the same as the previous one, why make any of them drink free days?

The problem is that little habits like these can become ingrained in the long term and even contribute to an increased tolerance for alcohol. And with furlough set to continue until October for some workers, and working from home likely to become a permanent pattern for others, there’s a real danger that many people will be putting their health at risk by consistently exceeding the low-risk drinking guidelines of 14 units a week.

There is a lot about life pre-lockdown that helped us moderate how much we drink. Drinking at home means alcohol is available 24/7 and, pubs, bars and restaurants will play a role in getting a lot of people people out of their lockdown drinking patterns. Drinking in the pub is controlled and supervised and, importantly, alcohol serves are exactly measured – unlike the generous free pours so many have been helping themselves to in their kitchens or back gardens over recent months!

According to Kantar research earlier in lockdown, 56% of people were looking forward to visiting a pub or restaurant when they reopen. Unsurprisingly, younger people are more comfortable about going out to eat or drink than older age groups at a higher COVID-19 risk.  And we’re all expecting to see new anti-virus measures such as social distancing, hand sanitiser and enhanced hygiene, to reassure us.

It’s interesting to see why we’re so keenly anticipating the end of the hospitality lockdown. Nearly two-thirds of people cited catching up with friends, and around half of us are planning a celebration or romantic occasion.  I think it’s the informal sociability of the pub that we’re looking forward to – the ability to turn up, as you are, share your highs and lows with friends or friendly bar staff, join in a quiz or listen to live music. Great pub experiences hinge on social connections, which is what we’ve all missed over the last three months.

In all of this, alcohol is definitely optional rather than compulsory and increasing numbers of pubgoers, particularly in younger age groups, are enjoying everything that the pub has to offer – except the alcohol. It helps that the range of ‘no and low’ alcohol drinks has never been better, so choosing to go without alcohol doesn’t mean sacrificing quality or flavour. Any licensees who have a chance to review their drinks range before opening their doors again should, as a priority, be making sure they have a great ‘no and low’ alcohol selection.

It’s also worth noting that, despite the uptick in home drinking, many people have developed positive behaviours to protect their health during the pandemic. According to recent research from CGA 3, a third of us are exercising more and a quarter are buying healthier foods. Nine per cent have cut out alcohol completely. Some of these good habits will surely stick once we come out of lockdown.

Let’s hope that the reopening of the pub, as an environment that encourages moderate drinking, combined with an increased desire to lead a healthier lifestyle, will help to reverse the excessive drinking developed by many during lockdown. The coronavirus pandemic is likely to have a negative impact on many aspects of our life, quite possibly for years to come; wouldn’t it be good if a better relationship with alcohol could be one positive to emerge from it?