Let’s kick-start 2021

It’s been a hugely challenging year for hospitality, however, there is now promise for a comeback with dates for a full re-opening. Here’s how to best prepare (and deal with possible delays)

We’ve been here before. After the first lockdown, optimism was high that we could return to some normality, but it wasn’t to be. This time, everyone hopes it will be different with the vaccination programme in full swing. And it looks like this is fuelling customers’ appetite to get out and about.

How are customers feeling about hospitality re-opening?

Myles Skirving, Category Development Manager at Heineken, shares some insights from recent consumer research: “Since the re-opening announcements, our survey demonstrates a really positive move in consumer sentiment, with more people feeling confident about the future and excited about visiting pubs, bars and restaurants when restrictions are loosened. Optimism is increasing across the spectrum, but particularly among women who were previously less confident about returning.”

“54% of consumers plan to visit in the first month of re-opening”
- Heineken Consumer Sentiment Report, Feb & March 2021

Myles continues: “We’ve seen a strong increase in consumers looking to go out in the first week and month of restrictions being lifted. Over half of consumers plan to visit in the first month of re-opening. Young male customers are particularly keen.”

Optimism but with caution

As confidence grows, it’s easy to get carried away. UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls says: “We are pinning a pretty significant chunk of our hope on restrictions being lifted on 21 June. Obviously, everyone is eager to return to some sense of normality, most of all when it comes to being able to socialise with family and friends. But hospitality can only bounce back properly if the restrictions on social distancing are lifted. That will clearly not happen overnight, but the roll-out of the vaccine gives us hope that it is coming sooner rather than later.

“During the past year, businesses have gained a huge amount of experience of working under intense pressure and in unfamiliar environments. We know that our members have put procedures in place to make sure that staff and customers are protected, and social distancing measures adhered to. As venues re-open, keep your teams briefed and be ready to adapt. We have to accept that the situation could change at short notice.

“It’s also really important to check you are getting all the support available to you. The UKHospitality website has signposts to the financial help being offered to the sector.”

Laughing woman working in cafe with protective visor

Are you outdoor ready?

The first step to hospitality re-opening came on 12 April, with venues being allowed to open outdoors only. According to the British Beer & Pub Association, around 75% of UK pubs have a beer garden or outdoor space, but only 40% of pubs are likely to have a beer garden or outdoor space big enough. If you’re one of these lucky ones, or you’re getting your smaller space ready for the wider opening in May, it’s essential to get prepared.

Get the right kit

If you’ve decided to cook food outdoors, obtain a large BBQ. A standard-sized one will slow down service and frustrate customers. With the full spring/summer season ahead of us, you should get your investment back quickly (as long as the British weather plays ball!).

Outdoor furniture doesn’t have to be high-end. Depending on your budget and customer base, you could go for picnic tables or plastic furniture. Consider some kind of outdoor covering in case of bad weather. This could be a full-on marquee with open sides or temporary sail cloth roofing.

Treat the outside as you would the inside. Take bookings if you’re not already. Make sure you’ve got clear floorplans of where each table is and which number they are. Give out numbered wooden spoons to help your staff find customers outside.

Man in mask cleaning table

Check the local rules

The government has announced that pavement licences can be extended, which is great news for smaller venues that have limited outdoor space. Venues are also allowed to erect marquees and awnings for two months without planning permission but be sure to look up the situation in your area as rules can differ across the UK regions.

Try something new

Hospitality has shown incredible innovation and adaptability over the past year, however, if you’re feeling stumped on ideas, why not try something new…

  • If feasible and affordable, could you have a street food style set-up outdoors? Be inspired by top street food sellers – get a gazebo, hire some portable cooking equipment and specialise in one or two key lines and do them really well. You never know, it could really take off and you could hire yourselves out for large-scale events such as weddings and food festivals.
  • Could you theme your outdoor space so customers feel like they’re on holiday? Restaurant group D&D London is transforming its outdoor spaces into popular holiday destinations. It will theme its cocktail menu, food, décor and music too.
Waiter serving woman a drink outside, both in masks

Maximise your menu

Before re-opening, look at your food and drink menus. Lots of things have changed over the past 12 months. Can you make tweaks to increase profits? Are customers ready to spend? The key is knowing your audience and what they want right now.

“There will be a set of consumers who have managed to save and will be looking forward to coming back out and treating themselves… but on the other hand there will be a lot who have been impacted negatively financially. For operators, the key takeout is knowing your audience and tailoring your offer accordingly.”
- Food and drink data experts CGA

Low cost, high profit

Unilever Food Solutions has a great guide to working out how profitable your menu is. Follow this and you can see which dishes are winners and which aren’t worth the effort.

When you’ve done this exercise, the Unilever team recommends highlighting your higher margin dishes on the menu. Make them first in the list or put a box around them to draw the eye.

It’s likely you’ll have reduced covers with social distancing, so make life easier by creating a smaller menu. To capture the attention of customers who like something different, you could do weekly specials. Look out for deals at your local wholesaler on meat, fish or vegetables that you could really showcase in a stand-out dish.

Versatile ingredients

Even though the situation is looking positive at the moment, this could change rapidly, as we’ve seen before. By using your freezer cleverly and buying versatile ingredients, you can better cope with diversions.

Nestlé Professional’s Business Development Chef, Darren Chapman, shares his top product picks to reduce waste and cut time: “The meat-free Garden Gourmet range is brilliant for a time like this. It’s bang on trend and can be cooked from frozen or defrosted. The products can fit into various cuisines (from burgers to stir-fries to bolognese), which means you don’t have to buy lots of different things.

“My other favourite is Maggi Coconut Milk Powder. You can use it to quickly make coconut milk or cream and as a substitute for desiccated coconut. Thicken and enrich curries with it and it’s brilliant in desserts and cakes, or even cocktails. Super versatile!

“Maggi Rich and Rustic Tomato Sauce is another winner. It will reduce your cooking times and stock lines as it can be used instead of chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, passata and pizza sauce.”

Don't forget deliveries

If you can, try to maintain your delivery and takeaway options. Some customers may still feel apprehensive about going out to eat, especially in early summertime. It’ll be a good additional income stream while there is reduced capacity for eating-in.

When you re-open, make sure customers know you’re still doing deliveries. Advertise it on your social media channels or put flyers in takeaways so customers know the option is still there. Read our top tips on deliveries.


Someone putting takeaway food in their bag

Quick wins for re-opening

  • Bring in loyalty cards. The GO Technology report from CGA and Zonal shows that half of consumers think loyalty schemes are important when choosing where to visit. They’re especially popular with a younger audience. Go simple with a card and stamps to start with to see how it goes. Give away a £5 voucher or free drink for a full card.
  • Just because it feels more relaxed, it doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. There are still restrictions until 21 June at the earliest. Make sure all your staff are still being safe and customers are adhering to the rules.
  • Hygiene is still very important to customers. PepsiCo Walkers’ Sentiment Survey found that hygiene concerns are high on people’s agenda. They’re looking for pre-packed snacks from well-known brands, so get stocked up. No more loose crisps with a sandwich lunch.*

*Source: PepsiCo & BigSofa Consumer Sentiment Survey, June 2020

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