The growing expectation by customers that they need to book in advance is contributing to the current lack of spontaneity in hospitality, Hawksmoor co-founder CEO Will Beckett has said.

Speaking on MCA’s The Conversation, he told host and MCA contributing editor Peter Martin that it’s difficult for people to think, on the spur of the moment, ‘shall we go out to eat somewhere’, especially if it means travelling, as customers anticipate they need to book ahead.

“Aside from full capacity, I think spontaneity is the thing that’s most obviously lacking in hospitality at the moment,” said Beckett.

He added that is has also impacted the behaviour of people within venues – not so much restaurants where people are generally sat down, but the free-flow of people moving around a pub and the common instances of conversations between strangers.

“I think that’s really one of the things that people are looking forward to, within the industry, from 21 June,” he said, adding that particularly when it comes to pubs, they want to get back to operating as such. “I can’t tell you how many publicans I have spoken who say ‘I just want to stop pretending to be a restaurant and get on with being a pub’.”

Beckett said that Hawksmoor is lucky in that it is a destination restaurant, therefore people have always been used to booking, but from his walks around city centres, especially in London, for those restaurants that are more reliant on walk-ins, it hasn’t been quite as rosy a picture.

The first week of indoor trading was “extremely nice” he said. “It was really lovely having people back in restaurants, both staff old and new, and customers.”

Hawksmoor is taking it “pretty cautiously”, he said, and is only opening “sure thing” services. For example it is open for dinner on a Saturday evening at all of its restaurants but only open for lunch on Monday at a handful. “The services we had open were really busy.”

Kate Nicholls, chief executive, UKHospitality agreed the picture had been mixed across the sector. She said while operators were positive about being able to offer indoor trading, there was a “broadly subdued” mood in the sector.

“It’s good to have some busy times, but full at 60% capacity is not profitable… full with restrictions in place that increase staffing costs, or mean you have to operate a pub as a restaurant, is not profitable,” she said.

Nicholls said there were positive signs out there that give cause for hope and optimism but it’s undoubtedly tough, and trade is very patchy depending on where you are and what your offering is.

“The sector remains very vulnerable and very fragile and it’s going to be a long road to recovery,” she added.

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