July 20 2020

‘IN THE LOOP’ - Will in-store consumption for Restaurants and Pubs ever return to normal?

Things are beginning to seem a little bit more normal. Those of us who did not continue working through lockdown are returning to the office, slowly, but surely. Shops are reopening, people are out and about and meeting up with friends is no longer a distant memory.
But it’s all still a bit skewed. Restaurants and pubs are indeed letting customers back in, but with regulations in place, in-store capacity is limited and customers remain wary over the risks of close-contact.
KAM researchers reported that over the re-opening weekend, 28% of UK adults visited either a pub or restaurant, and a further 17% were expecting to visit re-opening establishments over the next week.
However, here’s where the dilemma lies: Of those 28%, 18% stated that they would not be returning soon, and 36% said that they would continue to eat and drink out, but not as frequently as they had done before the lockdown. (statistics from FWD and KAM Media)

socially distanced seating in restaurant

So why might this be?

The obvious factor is risk. Given the seriousness of the situation and social distancing measures, it is simply too early to know whether or not the risk is low enough to quash doubts. This leads to poor consumer confidence - Visitors need to know that these places are now safe-spaces, and again, that is simply not possible at this stage of re-opening.
HIMShopper published some research focusing on consumer attitudes towards eating-out, following lockdown. They asked participants which areas of safety were of highest priority to them when considering eating out. The results showed that socially-distanced seating was the highest concern, with protective masks and the cleaning of surfaces by staff following.
This places a lot of pressure on restaurants and pubs, and requires them to balance the necessity of on-site consumption with distancing measures to ensure customer safety and confidence. Hygiene systems and hand-sanitizer stations are not enough just yet.
Another issue concerns convenience. There has been a lot of debate as to whether or not consumers even want to return to the way things were. Home-deliveries are predicted to drop following the re-opening of pubs and restaurants, but researchers suggest that this fall will be entirely regressive to the pre-lockdown situation.
To restore consumer confidence swiftly will play a large role in the changes we see for on-site visitors, but currently, delivery services are convenient enough for consumers to take the back seat and hold out on visiting their favourite destinations.
Observing these changes in consumer behaviour begs a question of trepidation for restaurant and pub owners - Is this the next phase of returning to the way things were or is this a ‘new normal’?
With statistics suggesting consumers’ desires to return to dining out, I believe the outcome of this intermittent phase lies withing the power to restore consumer confidence as quickly as possible, which is sadly, but necessarily, suggested to be a gradual process as re-opening takes place.
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