How will customers spend Christmas this year?


How will customers spend Christmas this year?

Christmas Jumper, Hot Drink

We asked operators what their most pressing concerns are right now and, of course - it's all about Christmas. What's going to happen to Xmas trade this year? How will consumers celebrate Xmas? Will there be office parties - will that even be legal? Are people still scared to dine out?

We recognise that this Christmas season is going to be a difficult and uncertain time for hospitality businesses - with Covid cases increasing across Europe and the UK, the 'rule of six' coming into force, and furlough scheme finishing at the end of October. This is why we approached our panel of mystery diners with our latest survey, to try to understand and predict consumer behaviour for the 2020 Christmas season, in order to help hospitality operators prepare accordingly. Here's our top findings.

Ho-Ho-No for large office parties

In the words of Boris Johnson, 'It's just too early to say', whether big office Christmas parties will even be allowed this year, and our survey results mirror this sentiment, with 3 out of 5 respondents not yet sure what their workplace Christmas plans will be. One fifth of workplaces have already pulled the plug and have cancelled their Xmas party for this year. Only 4% of respondents said that their workplaces will definitely be organising an office Xmas Party this year.

From a legal perspective, now that 'the rule of six' is in force, employers may have little choice but to postpone or scrap the 2020 office Xmas parties, depending on how long the new restrictions will last. Whilst we're in legislational limbo, it gets increasingly more difficult for hospitality operators to secure, or even to keep large Xmas bookings - as we get closer to Christmas, employers may find it easier to 'bite the bullet' on 2020 plans now, rather than take a chance on being forced to cancel at the last minute.

Venues that have previously been reliant on large corporate Xmas bookings may find success this year in adapting to a different target market - we have some suggestions in the paragraphs to follow.

Teams? Yes, please

So, we've come to the conclusion that big office parties are unlikely to happen in 2020, however there is no reason to despair just yet. Our survey shows that consumers are still eager to celebrate Christmas with their colleagues - just in smaller groups. 4 out of 5 respondents said they would either definitely (27%) or probably (52%) go out for a Xmas meal or drink in smaller teams. There is a slight gender influence in these figures with men significantly more confident than women, as respectively 85% and 77% would either definitely or probably take part in a small team Xmas party. From an age perspective, that percentage increases to a staggering 92% in Gen-Z (18-25) respondents. There is little variation amongst other age groups, where this figure remains around 79%, the only exception being the 56-65 age group where people are slightly more cautious and the percentage drops to 71%.

This is great news for hospitality, as the Christmas Spirit is clearly alive amongst consumers, even despite Covid and the new 'rule of six' restrictions. There are opportunities for marketers and event planners to target smaller teams who are ready to be tempted out.

The family Xmas meal

We asked our panel what their plans were for the family Christmas meal, and the results of the survey show that consumers are more likely to spend Christmas with families at home, rather than dining out. A large majority (85%) of consumers will enjoy their Christmas meal with families at home, because that's what they always do.

Interestingly, 8% of the respondents would have dined out with their families this year, if it wasn't for Covid. Restaurateurs therefore may experience a slightly smaller number of family Christmas bookings this year, based on our findings. The percentage of potential bookings lost is highest in the Millennial (26-35) age group, as 10% of respondents said they would have normally gone out for the Xmas meal, but will be prioritising safety this year.

On the flip side, 7% of consumers are expecting to have their Xmas meal in a restaurant or pub, rather than home. What's surprising is that the percentage of people expecting to dine out for the family Christmas meal increases gradually with age, from only 3% of Gen-Z respondents, to a whopping 16% in the 66+ age group.

In summary

The results of the survey demonstrate the willingness of consumers to go out to celebrate Christmas, which cannot be taken for granted this year, and this information will hopefully alleviate some of the operators’ worries. Covid has not managed to put a damper on consumers' Christmas plans, and rather than having one annual big office party, customers are looking to celebrate Christmas in smaller teams. Consumer confidence is slowly but steadily growing and people in general feel safe in hospitality venues, as long as they know that all the required safety measures are in place. A small number of families will be tempted to dine out at Christmas, but not as much as in the previous years. Marketers may find opportunities in targeting older age groups for family Christmas bookings.

Steven Pike, HGEM's MD comments: “December is a key time for hospitality businesses, and bookings would normally be in full flow by now. This year is clearly different but, as our research suggests, celebrating Christmas hasn’t been cancelled. In some respects it may even be easier to manage than normal, since group sizes are all likely to be 6 or fewer. The key is to make sure your teams have an offer that they can be proud of and start promoting now. Whoever has the clearest offer that feels relevant for the times, and a knowledgeable team that welcomes enquiries, will be the first to fill up their booking slots. It’s worth putting this to the test now – assessing responses to booking enquiries, in order to reinforce knowledge and identify where changes may be beneficial.”

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