Tips on presenting your hospitality business well as coronavirus confusion reigns

With hospitality businesses experiencing a huge growth in coronavirus cancellations of up to 80 per cent at the height of the gardening season, Malcolm Scott Consultant’s catering expert Andrew Burton shares his tips for presenting your hospitality business positively during the current crisis in garden centres and farm shops.

  • Relay your seating area so tables are at least 6ft apart and emphasise any changes you are making regarding controlling social distancing.  Telling customers you have halved the number of tables or removing queuing by introducing table service only helps the customer to feel safer.
  • Introduce more external café seating areas in your business.  Having fresh air and ideally undercover seating could help with customer confidence and social distancing the customer is looking for.
  • For businesses that want a more extreme reaction, why not follow the likes of Starbucks and review your café/restaurant menu and create a take-away menu by removing all of your seats.
  • Build pop up coffee stops around your centre and have pop up coffee shops selling hot and cold drinks, with wrapped snacks in selected outdoor and open indoor areas of your centre.  The customer isn’t always after a Chai Latte or Flat White, sometimes offering good coffee and tea at a lower price will offer what they want.  It is a change of focus, but it supports the situation.
  • As owners ensure you support your staff and deliver what you are doing, to step up cleaning in-house, including the overall food hygiene controls, the kitchen, the utensils, your tables, the team themselves and the toilets.
  • Promote to the public what you are doing to step up training for your team ‘to help in keeping everyone as safe as possible’
  • Consider a pensioner only shopping and catering hour each day, with supported prices in line with social distancing of pensioners and other customer demographs.
  • Focus your marketing to attract customers who live nearby, as it looks like people are staying more locally at present.
  • Suggest guests might wish to buy gift vouchers for future use when looking to cancel, or even as a show of support for the business.
  • Be proactive about contacting those who have booked and try to either confirm, land a future date or convert to a gift voucher.
  • Create a Just Giving page for your true brand fans who will want to see you stay in business or send your team a tip to say thanks.
  • Think about how you can serve your local community best in the next 8 weeks. Can your hospitality or retail food departments adapt into something else for the short term?  Introducing offers such as click & collect may be a step change for the industry this virus creates.

All of these options need to be highlighted across all your media channels, whatever the level  – via social media, on site and at your entrance.  Getting customers to read what you are doing will be difficult with the overall journalism space on social media being filled with worldwide news, but you have to shout what you are doing – otherwise why do it?

The customer base garden centres and farm shops have is a loyal one, it’s not time for marketing or promotions, but it is time to shout service, quality and care – care for your customer, care for your staff and care for your business.  We are all in this together and together we will remain stronger.

Many restaurants are already taking measures to preserve their businesses through the coronavirus downturn, including temporary closures, launching delivery and takeaway services, and encouraging people to buy vouchers to redeem later.  Our industry should not be on the backfoot and the locations of the garden centres and farm shops we have create added incentive to the customer.  The open air, rural environments many of our centres offer create a venue to lower the stir crazy mind, and working with the customer it can be done in a positive and practical way both in support of the government advice and business needs.

Data captured this past week has allegedly seen hospitality businesses in cities across the UK report a decline in footfall between 20 per cent and 59 per cent on Saturday. OpenTable data shows a year-on-year fall in number of diners across the country of up to 29% over the last week.

Andrew added: “I have been all over the country this past week and have witnessed varying levels of trade, whilst also seeing some real opportunities to do something to help the customer.  I was in Chester this weekend and the daytime trade on Saturday was electric, however the evening seemed quiet to me.  Earlier in the week, my hotel breakfast near Southend had just three people sat down to eat, whereas the same restaurant was full last time I stayed there.  It may be a coincidence, but it is something that we certainly have to monitor very closely at such a key time of year.”

At the time of writing, pubs and bars across Ireland have been ordered to close, though the same instructions have not been given to cafes and restaurants. While no order has been put in place in England, Scotland or Wales at this time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has advised the public to avoid non-essential travel and to avoid going to pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and theatres.

Image: iStock/e_rasmus