The good news about hospitality having to wait until at least 4 July to start reopening is that it gives operators another month to prepare and plan. It will be valuable time, not just to hone operational protocols and procedures, but to see how the wider economy starts to function, or not, after its 1 June restart date.
Once the doors open, success, not to say survival, will be dependent on a range of factors: government timetables, support and continuing restrictions; the financial strength of individual businesses; the creativity and resolve of management and their teams; wider economic and business activity; and the willingness of customers to return.
Operational preparedness will be influenced greatly by the first three, and you can probably throw industry solidarity into that mix too. The willingness of operators to work together and share experiences, not least on webinars like MCA’s The Conversation, has no doubt strengthened the lobbying influence of UK Hospitality. That spirit of co-operation has also helped businesses when drawing up their own bespoke blueprints for recovery.
Plans are still evolving and the best will have flexibility built-in, as no-one can be sure of what trading landscape operators will be confronted with come July. That will be shaped massively by those last two factors – the ones most out of their control.
How the public mood shifts will be dictated, to a large extent, by their experiences between now and then as many start to go back to work.
Latest research suggests that only about 20% of adults are gung-ho enough to rush back to pubs and restaurants come what may. The rest need reassurance, especially around safety and hygiene factors, including social distancing. With those measures in place, surveys suggest up to 80% could be back, although that will still leave a significant minority that may stay away for some time to come.
Operators can do a lot, especially with technology, to provide the public with the safe environment they will now expect, and which the authorities will demand. People may not necessarily like them, but they are getting used to Perspex screens and queuing, even facemasks, in supermarkets. Operators are also sharing some more innovative ideas out there on social media.
But the bigger questions will be about how the wider economy rebuilds and other businesses reboot – and how that will affect people’s everyday lives, including financially. Who will continue to work from home? Who will start to venture onto public transport and back into towns and cities, and if they do how long will they stay? Where will people be spending their out-of-work time?
The pattern of work will change, that’s certain. The question is how? The same will be true for domestic lifestyles. Are we already seeing a renaissance of suburban and village life?
Mapping and tracking those macro trends will be just as vital to hospitality businesses as any of those other factors in determining what to open, when to open and whether to open – all, part or even none of their operations.
The way many restaurant, pub and bar companies have already adapted their ways of working during lockdown, from communicating with their teams to developing new services, especially around delivery, demonstrates the capacity of the best to innovate, re-imagine and re-engineer their businesses. Many of those changes will stick. The new world may even bring opportunities to open in new areas with new offers, while abandoning others.
The vast majority of business leaders in the out-of-home sector are planning for a phased reopening, but only a third believe they will eventually re-open all their sites for trading. Another third are anticipating the need to permanently close sites, with the remaining third are yet to decide.
Those will not be easy decisions, so the more data to guide that process the better. Having wider insights from June might just increase the probability of them being the rights calls.
Although the 4 July restart will give the industry valuable extra planning time, the need for longer-term intelligence gathering and analysis will remain crucial. We are after all talking survival in what is a vastly changed environment.
The macro-view is likely to become more not less important. How tourism, mass entertainment and global business adapt and how our cities and local communities evolve will all affect the future shape of the hospitality market.
Where people live and work will change. We can argue how significant and lasting the legacy of the coronavirus crisis will be, how it ranks against recessions and wars, but as a reminder after World War 2, London’s population, plummeted, falling from a pre-war high of 8.6 million people in 1939 to a low of 6.8 million, and didn’t start to grow again until the 1980s. My grandparents were part of that post-war flight to the country.
Who knows if anything quite so dramatic will come in the wake of this? Who predicted the shutdown of ordinary life we are now experiencing?
All individual businesses can do is try to plot a path through, be agile and adaptable, and take every opportunity available to stay ahead – including making the most of any extra time that comes your way. June is going to be a busy planning month.
• Making predictions can be a dangerous game, but when I chatted to Peter Marks, the boss of the Deltic late night business, right at the start of the lockdown he said he wasn’t expecting to reopen his premises any time soon. “Not before September, I reckon,” he said. Looks like he was spot on.
Peter Martin: Why being first isn’t always best
The good news about hospitality having to wait until at least 4 July to start reopening is that it gives operators another month to prepare and plan. It will be valuable time, not just to hone operational protocols and procedures, but to see how the wider economy starts to function, or not, after its 1 June restart date. Once the doors open, success, not to say survival, will be dependent on a range of factors: Government timetables, support and continuing restrictions; the financial strength of individual businesses; the creativity and resolve of management and their teams; wider economic and business activity; and the willingness of customers to return.