The Evolving Hospitality Customer

By Katy Moses, MD, KAM Media katy@kam-media.co.uk www.kammedia.co.uk

They say it takes 6 weeks to form a new habit. Well it’s been nearly 6 months now since the UK consumer first really felt the impact of lockdown measures. The restrictions on socialising, the potential financial instability for so many, and the weeks spent in our homes have undoubtedly altered many people’s habits and behaviours. The majority of consumers are likely to settle back to longer term habits eventually, but there are some clear key trends which have emerged, or should I say, accelerated at a breakneck speed!

1.Hyper, hyperconnected consumer

SINCE LOCKDOWN, A WIDER REACH OF PEOPLE ARE DOING A BROADER REMIT OF ACTIVITIES ONLINE – LEARNING, SHOPPING, CONSUMING, COMMUNICATING… PEOPLE HAVE DOWNLOADED NEW APPS AND SEEN NEW WAYS TO EXPERIENCE AND UTILISE THE ONLINE WORLD. IF YOU THOUGHT AN ONLINE PRESENCE WAS IMPORTANT BEFORE, THE IMPORTANCE HAS NOW EXPLODED. POSTING THE OCCASIONAL PHOTO ON INSTAGRAM PROBABLY WON’T CUT IT ANYMORE! 

2. Health and safety with a twist

WHETHER WE END UP WITH A NATION OF OCD HAND WASHERS OR JUST MORE AWARE OF OUR MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH, WE EXPECT THE HEALTH AND WELLNESS TREND TO FURTHER SPIKE. HOSPITALITY WILL NEED TO PROACTIVELY HELP CUSTOMERS FEEL SAFE, WITH REGARDS TO BOTH THE FOOD AND DRINK THEY ARE CONSUMING AND OF COURSE THEIR ENVIRONMENT.  IN A RECENT CHAT I HAD FOR OUR BLOG SERIES, HOSPITALITY TALKS, YUMMY PUBS CO-FOUNDER, ANTHONY PENDER TOLD ME “THERE ARE THINGS WHICH WE’VE CHANGED IN THE VENUE WHICH WON’T ACTUALLY HELP WITH THE HYGIENE OR THE PANDEMIC, BUT THEY’RE GOING TO MAKE CUSTOMERS FEEL SAFE. WE’LL NEED TO RE-ASSURE CONFIDENCE IN THE CONSUMER. NUMBER ONE WILL BE THE REALITY OF WHAT WE NEED TO DO, AND THE SECOND WILL BE THE CUSTOMER PERCEPTION.”

6. DELIVERY AND “EATING OUT AT HOME”

Only 7% of UK consumers were using delivery apps on a weekly basis before this crisis – that figure is looking to be around 24% right now. Delivery is now providing hospitality with a much-needed source of income, when done right. Consumers were forgiving of new delivery services during lockdown, but operators now need to get professional – competition is fierce and not all will survive. The successful operators will be thinking beyond delivering food and consider the wider “dining out at home” experience, including drink pairings, tableware and even playlists. DIY meal packs and ‘finish at home’ versions of signature dishes are already emerging as crowd-pleasing concepts.

4. FLATTEN THE (DAY PART) CURVE

The way we live our lives has changed, meaning the way we consume will change too. This offers a huge opportunity to maximise footfall during off-peak times and flatten the traditional peaks throughout the day to keep a steady and safe stream of customers. Although some operators are concerned about a drop in professionals visiting for lunch or post work drinks, many are still looking for a change of scenery now that they are working from home. This potentially means opportunities for earlier family dinners; or the need to ‘escape’ for a morning coffee; or a workspace for a couple of hours away from home; or brunch/breakfast with friends instead of after work drinks. There is an opportunity for operators and suppliers to think differently. How does range, offer and comms need to flex to attract different customer occasions?

5. DON’T FORGET TO SURPRISE AND DELIGHT

Safety will be a priority for a while, but we must continue to remind customers what they love about the hospitality experience; the food, the drinks, the perfect serve, the welcoming atmosphere, the list goes on. Louise Maclean, Director of Sales and Marketing at Signature Pubs comments, “we promote social interaction, that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to help people enjoy themselves. We need to be careful not to become a clinical, sterile box”.

6. Be open to (& ready for) change

WHATEVER HAPPENS NEXT MONTH, IT WILL PROBABLY LOOK VERY DIFFERENT AGAIN IN 3 TO 6 TO 12 MONTHS. STAYING CLOSE TO WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS WANT, NEED AND FEEL IS GOING TO BE EVEN MORE INSTRUMENTAL THAN EVER IN HELPING BUSINESSES PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE AND NAVIGATE THESE CHALLENGING TIMES.