What are consumers thinking and feeling post-lockdown?


What are consumers thinking and feeling post-lockdown?

What are consumers thinking and feeling post-lockdown?

EP Magazine recently interviewed our MD, Steven Pike, and a thought-provoking and educating discussion ensued on a wide range of subjects around coronavirus and hospitality.

We've published a summary of the key findings below, but you can watch the full-length interview here.

How we're helping our clients right now

HGEM's main purpose post-lockdown is to help clients rebuild their sales, and to come out of this difficult phase together. In essence, what we really do is help clients to increase sales and encourage return visits through managing the guest experience. We do this in three main ways:

  • Feedback sites, to reconnect with guests and collect their ratings and subjective opinions

  • Online review feeds, to capture public perceptions and response statistics, and

  • Brand audits, to monitor standards and processes, making sure that teams are doing what's expected from both a business and covid-safety perspective.

    So, we've got the objective measures and the subjective feedback, and we put that together to get an overall picture of the guest experience that clients can then use to draw actions and results from. It's never been more important to really understand the guest experience than now, when every visit counts.

    Giving people a reason to come out trumps fear

    We're finding that guest sentiment is changing every few weeks. Fear is there, particularly in older groups, and surprisingly in Gen Z, much more than in millennials. We discovered from our recent survey that 25% of people don't feel safe to go out yet, and another 20% are unsure, however, when asked about whether they would take advantage of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, 87% said they would either 'definitely' or 'probably' try it. So, it doesn't take much to tease them out - it's about giving them a reason to do so. People are now starting to believe that this is how it's going to be for the next six months to a year, and it's time to get used to it.

    Balancing safety and guest experience

    In terms of what people are looking for in a dining experience - nobody wants to go into a place that feels clinical and hospitalised, as that detracts from the overall experience. So it's important to make sure that a visit still feels warm and welcoming and not too officious, but at the same time, we're seeing comments from customers that some venues hadn't tried hard enough: either there isn't visible hand sanitiser or there's no visible social distancing. A lot of it is about perception, it's about being seen to be doing the right things and about making people feel safe.

    We also recently did a survey about face coverings. We asked about 500 people and around 76% said they felt that serving staff should be wearing masks. So, guests actually prefer masks; it makes them feel safe.

    Including the team

    Every hospitality venue is different, and often the best people to interpret guest sentiment are the team, so it's a good idea to involve them in identifying opportunities to do things differently or reflecting on whether certain things work or not. Showing staff you're 'in it together', and including them in the journey is the most impactful way of empowering them from a leadership perspective. There is a lot of fear at staff level as well, both from a health and a job security point of view. By allowing staff to have influence over their surroundings will alleviate some of those fears, and we know that happy staff pay it forward to guests.

    Local, local, local

    With people working from home and avoiding major cities, many people are embracing their local communities and eateries, discovering that perhaps they don't need to travel quite so much as they did before. This also applies to international travel - in another survey we conducted recently, 62% of people said they will be spending more money in the UK this year, because they're not going away. Marketers will likely pick up on this trend and we will be seeing many more stories about the produce, people, culture and history as part of the branding for establishments in the future.


    We're seeing a lot of missed opportunities in sales right now, a common one is the classic mistake - second drinks not being upsold. Whilst everyone is getting used to making sure all the safety requirements are being fulfilled, other brand standards may be slipping, so it's something worth checking and reinforcing with front of house teams.

    Embracing Technology

    The pandemic has forced us to fast-forward on the technology front and a lot of establishments are embracing technology to help with ordering and upselling. Technology, such as an app, for example, can also be a great tool to tell brand stories or to embrace the localism side of it. If technology acts as the main point of contact between venue and customer, then it's really important to get it right. Testing and listening to customer feedback is key to ironing out any creases in the user experience.

    What we've found, and this is both with customers, and with our clients, that people are much more open to change than they were 6 months ago. For example, a lot of places went cashless during lockdown, and people quickly accepted it as "this is just something we do now".

    In the long run, embracing technology may save businesses money with lower operating costs and slicker processes, but when used right it may also start bringing in more money - right now is a good time to test and implement new changes, because customers are willing to change their habits.

    What does the future look like for hospitality?

    It's about taking that long term view. Right now - it is tough. It's very difficult to see in front of the next few months. But if, as a business, you can get the income settled down to a suitable enough level, accept that we're going to be in this period for a year or so, and that some things are going to be different at the end of that year, then, there will be a point when the situation settles down. And then we're probably going to have a period of quite rapid growth, with plenty of opportunities. Keep trying new things, keep testing, and keep adapting.

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