If the latest Covid restrictions have taught us anything, it’s that we could all do with our own Plan B, C and potentially a whole raft of contingencies to keep our businesses running.

It’s not just the unpredictability of our Government, but the fact that the pandemic has altered many people’s attitudes, not least to risk. Uncertainty breeds caution, or at least in large numbers of us.

Consumer confidence may be brittle, but these are nervous times for investors and staff too. How do you keep all of them onside and reassured – and not just now but down the line?

Covid has changed the agenda. Just when some thought the world was getting back to ‘normal’, the new Government crackdown and the reaction to the Omicron variant have proved we are anything but.

Recent customer research has been telling us that quality of food and experience, plus the search for something ‘new’, were again the main drivers of choice when the public came to decide on where to eat and drink.

But the actions of many who would normally be out and about, including the spate of festive party cancellations, show that concerns around health and safety are still bubbling close to the surface.

Not that everyone is avoiding going out. But there is caution about, as the fear-of-missing-out (or FOMO as marketers call it) is strong – and that’s not about missing out on a lunch or dinner out, rather missing out on Christmas at home if you happen to test positive as a result of going out. It’s about personal priorities, and home and family may well be bigger draws this time of year.

So, should we now expect a move back to the familiar and the local when people do go out to eat and drink? Along with a reluctance to go into cities and crowded places, these were the issues high up the list of customer concerns immediately post-lockdown. Being seen a trusted and reliable destination may carry even more weight going forward.

The question for operators is whether all this is going to shape their longer term out-look and operating plans? Contingency planning that involves building in flexibility and passing down more decision-making to front-line GMs may well be two outcomes – not to mention spreading your bets with an on-line presence. Those with a strong delivery and take-out set-up are probably feeling more comfortable than most at the moment.

Staying close to, and clearly and consistently communicating with, your customer base is another mantra that probably should be baked in to all operational plans. If you are not talking to them, someone else surely will be.

Truth is that trade is going to be lost over what should be the busiest time of the year, with city centre, large capacity and late night locations likely to bear the brunt, unless they can adapt quickly. Earlier closing and covering up dance floors are already being contemplated by some operators.

It would be nice if the Government helped with the financial pain with a longer term VAT cut and maybe even a VAT holiday, but don’t hold your breath.

So, staying close to your investors and lenders is also going to be important, as is choosing them longer term. Financial planning just acquired a capital ‘P’ for prudence.

As one prominent restaurant entrepreneur said at the height of the last lockdown, having financial headroom is going to be increasingly important in the future, which is why that individual was steering clear of private equity. We are already seeing a move back to the public markets.

And that leads us to what was already a major headache before the prime minister decided his Plan B needed implementing. Staff will be increasingly nervous about their jobs and earnings potential, and this will only deepen the staff recruitment crisis. Team members anticipating a drop in Christmas earnings, or even being laid off, will be more likely than ever to call it a day.

How operators keep their teams close and cared for will to be crucial in maintaining good employer reputations, now and into the coming year. Hospitality’s image as a place to work will be put into even sharper focus.

It’s going to be another rocky period, but at least there will be lessons learned from the past 18 months of pandemic restrictions.

So, do you need a plan for every eventuality? Possibly not, but agility and the ability to move quickly will be vital, as will being able to call on institutional memory. The one thing we should all know by now is that crap is going to happen. Be ready.