Matt Hunt, Founder and CEO of Geronimo writes:
In two weeks time it is likely that Covid-19 lockdown restrictions will ease in New South Wales as our vaccination rates climb to meet our statewide targets. And if the current guidance is correct we can expect Victoria to open up around the 26th October, which will leave Melbourne with the dubious honour of having to endure the longest Covid-19 lockdowns of any country in the world.
In a recent panel discussion hosted by Quantaco Chief Commercial Officer Scott Barber, I was joined by publicans Simon Jonson and Jen Russell to discuss how the hospitality industry was preparing for pub life after lockdown.
People are desperate to socialise
There was a unanimous view that we can expect a surge in demand as Australians make up for lost opportunities to socialise over the past 12 months. And more recently, if we can take the NSW mid north coast as a lead indicator, we can expect 25% year on year increases according to one pub group this week. But what do we need to think about to ensure we are serving the needs of our customers in this new normal?
Customer expectations are forever changed
While lockdown has been challenging for everyone, this period of hardship has accelerated changes in consumer behaviour. Online shopping, click and collect, rise of retail returns, home groceries, mobile payments, stay local and dine at home experience have all seen exponential growth, however at the same time, people are being more mindful with the way they are spending their hard earned money. No question the industry is looking forward to the return of their old customers, but it has been interesting to see how the industry has responded.
Hospitality industry is responding with creativity and innovation
With all it’s creativity and innovation the industry has responded quickly throughout lock down with new products and services that meet the changing needs of customers during their hibernation.
Takeaway meals, drink delivery services, community support initiatives and make your own cocktails kits for local customers have all been examples of innovation for customers in need of a break from their routines. At the same time it has been exciting to see owners renovating and investing in their businesses to ensure they are ready for their loyal customers when they return.
Anticipating the needs of the life after lockdown customer
One of the most discussed topics by the panel was premiumisation, which was the idea that the industry is expecting people to buy more expensive and premium products, services and experiences. So instead of ordering a glass of house wine and a counter meal, we are expecting increases in demand for gourmet food, premium wine and cocktails and exclusive experiences.
With the 1 person per 4 square meter rule in place we are expecting a surge in group table bookings as people fight their fear of missing out and make up for the backlog of important birthday, wedding, anniversary and other celebrations. And we’re excited in NSW about a potential change to 1 per 2 square meter rule on December 1.
In the corporate world, it has never been more important to get our teams back together. Speak with business leaders in lockdown and you will hear stories of new employees who have yet to actually meet any of their teammates in person. Companies have substituted team engagement though Zoom, but it was recognised that this was is a poor substitute for in-person team building. We are social beings and we are expecting a surge in corporate bookings, so get prepared.
And if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, we are less than 40 days away from the unofficial start of the hospitality silly season on Melbourne Cup Day. Combined with the Australian summer, Christmas parties, and backlogs in annual leave it is likely that the hospitality industry is in line to see a strong surge in demand.
For those of us either serving or supporting hospitality customers, the end of lock down can not come soon enough. Cheers to that.