Since the start of lockdown, businesses in the hospitality industry have been forced to close down and, although some have been able to carry on with a delivery/takeout model most have had to furlough their staff and go dark.

However, with the gradual easing of lockdown the lights are once again going on and so for many owners and directors of hospitality companies there is a single question on their minds – how do we get the customers back?

There’s a mountain to climb

Let’s not beat about the bush, this is going to be a long hard slog.

Recent research from YouGov shows that a large majority of people would feel uncomfortable visiting coffee shops, pubs and restaurants post-lockdown.

This means that the industry as a whole will need to work extra hard to give people confidence that they are taking every precaution to keep people safe.

Whilst we focus on the needs of the customer, we also need to bear in mind that staff may also fear coming in to work especially where they need to use public transport and so it is important to also respect their needs.

Understand the issues

The first step for any business is to conduct a full risk assessment of their proposed method of working.

This will take into account the requirements for any PPE, non-contact payment methods and social distancing.

Once a risk assessment has been carried out it can form the basis of any practical measures that you need to take such as putting up signage, enforcing queuing and setting up screens for your staff.

You may also need to do a staff survey.

Your staff will all have different needs, so, for example, some may be isolating as they have vulnerable people in their home, in which case you may not be able to count on them to come back in the early stages. This may mean that you have a capacity problem if you can’t look after your customers in the way you would like.

Give people the option to act responsibly

The simple fact of the matter is that people take social cues from the people around them.

If others are using hand sanitizer or regularly washing their hands then people will tend to follow suit, but if it isn’t seen as necessary to look after hygiene then people won’t bother.

Having physical queue barriers leading up to the doors and checkouts, providing multiple hand sanitizer points including on the way in and asking people politely to make sure they have used them all go a long way to showing the public that you are treating their health seriously.

Think about the last time you visited a large supermarket. Did they have people on the door asking you to use hand sanitiser and cleaning the trolleys?

Did it annoy you or did it reinforce the message that actually they are taking COVID seriously?

Signalling is important

People react to overt signals, such as telling them to use hand sanitiser, but they also react to less obvious ones.

So it is important to make sure that when you have staff working they have the correct PPE and are using it and that they take precautions in an obvious manner, such as washing their hands regularly and making sure that they are socially distancing.

This is perhaps one of the most important ways to get people back into your hospitality business, especially for the walk-in trade. When people look through your windows and see staff who are taking the situation seriously they will be comforted that this is a business that is safe to enter.

Invest in physical assets to make people feel safe

We’ve already spoken about the need to have queue barriers and screens from the point of view of keeping people safe but they are important also for the signalling aspect.

Make sure that you also have a method of taking contactless payments. 

Cash is incredibly dirty. In fact, the World Health Organisation did a survey into the microbiology that exists on the surface of cash, the results of which you can find here but we’d warn you to only read it if you have a strong stomach!

With this in mind having a contactless payment option gives customers the confidence that they can use your establishment with little risk.

The UTP Group have an excellent range of different payment solutions, such as card machines and virtual terminals and they can also link in with any booking system you may have which will help hospitality businesses that are investing in things like apps for ordering and online payment.

Communication is the key

Once you have premises that are safe, staff that are acting responsibly and methods of operating that reduce risk it is important to let your customers know.

Having a copy of your risk assessment pinned to the outer doors and on your website is a good start.

Emailing your customer list and explaining all of the measures you have taken to make your environment safe is also a good idea.

Making sure you have clear and sufficient signage on your premises is important and it is also vital that you give your staff a script to use on new and returning customers to explain the new rules and how they should act.

It is often thought that if a business has a set of rules that it rigidly applies then this will put customers off.

In fact, the opposite is the case.

Where customers see that the company has taken covid seriously and is applying the rules rigorously and without fear or favour then they take great comfort and are more likely to return to the establishment.

Getting people back will be a slow process

We don’t think that there is a silver bullet here.

Lockdown has been a scary time and getting people back into hospitality is all about building confidence.

Doing a full risk assessment and then acting on your findings is the starting point.

Then it is important to ensure that you have plenty of overt signs that you are taking the situation seriously and that your staff know what they are doing.

Making sure you have rules that you stick to will breed confidence as will communicating with your customers about the steps you are taking.

Although this all seems like a lot of work it will be worth it in the long run as consumers look for hospitality businesses that are on top of the issue and by carrying out these steps your business can make sure it is well placed once customers start to return.