In the latest episode of “In the Soup”, Robb Harris, Finance Director at Upham Pubs, discusses the challenges facing pubs, restaurants, and bars during the COVID-19 crisis. One particular thing Robb focuses on is the changes to customer demand and trends driven by the pandemic. This means that restaurateurs will need to be flexible and creative in order to make the best of the situation and thrive in a more cost focused environment. Read on for tips on how to identify these new trends and capitalise on them.
Customer trends and demand will change
In the U.K, likelihood is that the government will slowly repeal Covid restrictions leading to multiple levels of soft launches for restaurants. As we heard from the Prime Minister on Sunday, certain hospitality businesses will potentially be allowed to open with social distancing in place starting from July. However, there will no doubt be a phased approach to this, starting with locations that have outdoor space working all the way through to the most crowded spots. There may also be an expectation for staff to wear masks and personal protection equipment (PPE) to begin with.
These restrictions, along with differing levels of customer concern and wariness, will alter demand across your different locations, with the spread of demand likely to be uneven. For example, more urban areas with a younger demographic may find residents less risk averse and keen to resume the social lifestyle that comes with living in a city. Rural and suburban areas, on the other hand, with more families and an eldery residents, may be more reluctant to go back to their pre-Covid behaviour.
A good, cost effective idea may be to experiment with a few clusters with demographic and geographic similarities in order to understand new customer trends. If you have restaurants spread across the country, you could cluster and categorise your locations as “Urban”, “Suburban” and “Rural”. You could then choose 1-2 locations for each category to open in order to test customer demand in these types of locations.
You might also find that you need to change up your menu to suit changing customer habits or because you can no longer get hold of the products you used to use (think no fresh mozzarella or produce from Italy). Plus, uncertain customer demand means a greater chance for food waste, which could have a huge impact on your profit margins. To counter food waste, chefs should make sure that their menus make use of common ingredients across different menu items.
Cluster and customise your openings
As you open more and more locations, you can continue to adjust based on the data you collect. Our recommended experiments by location cluster (urban, suburban, or rural) will reveal which sites are in the best position to open. You might find that urban areas may be well suited for evening-only hours, while suburban and rural areas may be best suited for weekend roasts making use of any outdoor space.
Alter the menu and reduce food costs
After experimenting and capturing customer reception to your new menu - using social media and sales data to identify which dishes are most popular - restaurants should adopt this similar menu across locations to reduce food costs. Focusing on easily accessible ingredients and using them in different ways (think whole animal cooking or root to leaf use of vegetables) across the menu will allow you to cut your food costs while still offering high quality meals.
Eventually, a new norm will be established and identified. Customer demand will become more steady, which will enable more accurate staffing schedules. However, these schedules cannot be the same ones your teams have been using for years - new ones will need to be developed. Figuring out how and when to increase staff from a base level will be key, not to mention the extra consideration of safe distancing. You’ll need to pay close attention to the schedules to make sure hours are distributed fairly as well.
How to prepare your organisation
Proper technology will be vital to identifying and capitalising on these trends. Before restrictions are lifted, it may be an ideal time to rethink business processes, strategy, and technology. Really consider how to make the reopening journey as seamless as possible, to avoid any extra costs of pivoting to new ideas at the last moment.
If you want to hear more about reopening and our tips and tricks, sign up to Planday’s webinar ‘Staying afloat until you find solid ground’, where Tenzo CEO, Christian Mouysset, will be breaking down the data to help guide you to a successful reopening.