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The foodservice industry remains optimistic following a positive consumer response to businesses reopening.
As restrictions eased and hospitality and food outlets began to open their doors in July, many business owners will no doubt have been concerned about footfall. But while many consumers remained wary of visiting public outlets such as bars and restaurants, others were keen to return to a sense of normalcy while supporting local businesses.
Naturally, sales have been lower than pre-coronavirus levels, and many operators have noted that business isn’t as consistent as it used to be. However, with so much uncertainty still surrounding the pandemic, it could be that we see footfall increase week-on-week as people gain confidence in outlets that are making hygiene and customer and staff safety a priority. It’s also hoped that positive reviews and feedback from visitors will help to boost consumer confidence overall.
“Many consumers welcomed the possibility to be able to dine in their favourite restaurants once again,” Rowena Romulo, owner of Romulo Cafe & Restaurant in Kensington, told us.
“For those who have dined with us since we re-opened, they were happy to be back and appreciated the measures that we put in place to safeguard their health and welfare. For many of our guests, it was their first time to dine out after lockdown. Others prefer to wait a bit more before dining out as, although they would love to visit, they don’t yet feel comfortable taking public transportation, and still prefer delivery of food at home. Others still would rather enjoy the outdoors, having been inside their homes for a long time, and instead head to the beach or have a picnic in the park.”
Caroline Taylor, the General Manager of Novikov restaurant in Mayfair agreed, adding that the overall sentiment of diners is very positive, with people excited to have the opportunity to eat out again.
For outlets like Romulo and Novikov, safety and hygiene have been key to regaining customer’s trust upon reopening.
“We implemented several measures to safeguard the health and welfare of both our staff and guests following an extensive risk assessment,” Rowena said. “Prior to re-opening for dine-in, we commissioned a professional cleaning company to administer clinically tested chemicals in the air, covering the entire surface of the restaurant to act as a protective shield against bacteria and viruses. We also installed antibacterial door handles and replaced door push plates to help control cross contamination. Screens have been installed and the layout of the tables has been rearranged to facilitate social distancing.”
Other measures include complimentary sanitizers, gloves and masks for customers; masks and gloves for staff; and contactless order and payment options for customers via mobile devices.
At Novikov, staff maintain social distancing with guests as well as each other and wear masks for further protection. Only six guests are allowed at each table, and tables are placed one metre apart. Guests must also provide their details in compliance with the NHS Test and Trace system. The restaurant also sanitises all surfaces between seatings and at regular intervals throughout the day, while a fogging machine with sanitising solutions cleans the air hard surfaces at the end of each day. It’s measures like these that will continue to help improve consumer confidence in the future.
That said, even with measures in place, many foodservice outlets have noted that a degree of consumer caution is leading to people spending considerably less time and money compared to last year.
While official figures aren’t expected until September, it’s predicted that sales and customer numbers are currently at about half pre-virus levels. While it is to be expected, it still points to a need for extra support from the Government if the industry is to recover. However, we may see figures increase as the VAT cut in the summer could lead to an increase in spend.
The retail sector – particularly non-food retailers – has witnessed similar trends, with sales increasing from previous weeks, yet still markedly lower than previous years. While many remain optimistic, the impact of furlough and a low consumer confidence could still impact the industry moving forward. As with food retailers, it’s advised for businesses to prioritise customer and staff safety to help increase consumer confidence. Businesses may also consider adapting their services with creative activations and offers to entice new customers and retain loyal ones.