The ''New Normal'' for hospitality businesses

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There’s no doubt that COVID-19 severely impacted the hospitality industry. As lockdown restrictions are easing up and business owners start opening their restaurants and bars, many find their old business model doesn’t fit the ‘’new normal’’. Not only are we struggling to adjust to social distancing inside buildings, but hospitality entrepreneurs need to regain consumer confidence in these changing times.

Fortunately, restaurateurs from across the world joined together to supply guidance for reopening and planning a better future. Learn what to expect with your business and consumer behaviour by exploring industry developments and expectations going forward.

Visualise the new normal for restaurants and bars

With the COVID-19 pandemic, your restaurant or bar will likely look much different upon reopening. Changes impact your revenue, employees, and customers. Although business models vary across countries and regions, the hospitality industry came together to develop a variety of resources. 

Organisations like World Health Organisation (WHO) detail best practices for social distancing inside your restaurant while individuals, like Syed Asim Hussain, co-founder of Black Sheep Restaurants in Hong Kong, created location-specific yet easily adaptable guidelines for use across the world. 

Reopening guidelines and compliance for hospitality companies 

Restaurants and bars look different these days. Owners must reduce capacity, which leaves empty spaces or taped off tables. But, exact specifications and enforcement depend on your location. 

For instance, the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) relies on local authorities to report on hospitality organisations adherence to rules. The FSA provides a reopening checklist for food businesses. They recommend owners update their Food Safety Management System and record data using the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan or Safer food, better business pack.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) works with state and local health officials to determine location-specific rules. Local fire marshals and city code enforcement officers may issue administrative citations for non-compliance. Furthermore, lawyers and insurance companies help clarify what effect non-compliance may have on your restaurant or bar. 

It’s essential to review your local regulations and enforcement procedures before opening. Failure to adhere to rules may result in the loss of your liquor license or steep fees. Recommendations for social distancing in restaurants and bars include:

  • Remove booths, tables, and chairs to meet rules requiring two metres (six feet) or more between tables.
  • Rearrange restaurant entrances for spacing, add floor markings, and signage.
  • Make employee workstation adjustments to provide one metre (three feet) or more between staff.
  • Consider adding plexiglass at the host station, between tables, and at the bar area.

Monitor staff and customer behaviour inside restaurants and bars

A variety of challenges come into play when opening your business during the pandemic. Although it’s a new normal to wear a mask, some consumer behaviour is hard to change. For example, guests may not feel comfortable with temperature checks or struggle to stay in their seats after a few cocktails. 

Even employees may struggle with increased sanitation and cleaning duties. Address these concerns by increasing the presence of managers and owners. You’ll need accountability and extra awareness of staff, surroundings, and guests. Depending on local guidelines, you may need to:

  • Enforce rules for mask-wearing with employees and customers.
  • Limit table size to less than ten people or only allowing family members to dine together.
  • Prevent bar guests from close contact after alcohol consumption.
  • Gather contact information for guests upon arrival.

Meet hospitality revenue goals while social distancing

Reducing restaurant capacity in an industry plagued with low-profit margins isn’t easy. Hospitality businesses face unprecedented revenue losses and hope to find a new normal to finish the year off in the black. But, doing so may require some creative thinking, including revamping business models. 

Restaurant and bar owners step up to meet revenue shortfalls in many unique ways. For instance, many restaurateurs shifted to selling meal kits and offering delivery during the shutdown. Going forward, business owners will continue to diversify their offerings to support lower sales due to social distancing. 

In recent years many restaurants opted to add new revenue streams like hosting live events or providing co-working spaces. With these ideas off the table, for now, you’ll see owners returning to many classic approaches as well. For example, restaurateurs look to regain consumer confidence by avoiding overly promotional marketing campaigns. Instead, they’ll focus on boosting customer loyalty and sharing social proof that showcases guests social distancing. 

Understand changes to consumer behaviour and confidence

There’s no doubt consumer behaviour changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. People face unique challenges that altered their daily lives, from homeschooling kids to working from home. Before COVID-19, many families looked forward to extended trips to busy tourist areas. Now, Google reports a rise in searches for staycations and travel plans that support social distancing, like camping. These changes are reflected in consumer behaviour on and offline. 

Consumer confidence also took a hit during COVID-19. The uncertainty about income and illness cloud happy gatherings in restaurants and bars. Restaurateurs who address these concerns with open communication and visual and consistent sanitation tasks help guests trust business owners and staff. 

Prepare to succeed during the COVID-19 pandemic

You can absolutely earn revenue while social distancing. However, some areas may reopen only to get closed down months later. Others may experience pushback from their community or staff regarding health guidelines. Ensure safe dining by taking steps to be ready for anything the future tosses at you:

  • Research local resources for health and safety guidelines.
  • Determine what type of inventory you’ll need for in-house dining.
  • Review your menu and make changes to avoid meal or dish sharing.
  • Train managers on how to function in your restaurant’s new normal.
  • Address employee concerns and encourage open communication.
  • Explore new ways to add revenue or consider updating your business model.
  • Prepare for future disruption by reviewing your business continuity plans.
  • Build consumer confidence with operational transparency.

Gain consumer confidence with your new normal of hospitality

Support your guests and employees by helping everyone adjust to the new normal. Hospitality is about treating guests like family members and providing safe and comfortable spaces for a meal or drink. Although social distancing seems to go against normal consumer behaviour, modelling the correct form while staying firm will help customers regain trust in public spaces.

Eduardo Rodriguez Bolanos

Global Hospitality & Leisure Industry Leader

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