How well has the hospitality sector performed since re-opening and what more can be done to bring people back?
With the UK market somewhat more open to customers than the Irish one market analyst CGA ran a Covid-19 Pulse survey of some 2,000 UK consumers and presented the results, alongside work that came in via its We Hear You survey, at a webinar, ‘Catching the new wave of consumers’, for the licensed trade there.
CGA’s consumer attitude findings make interesting reading and may well have equal significance for the hospitality trade here.
Across the total market the majority of UK pubs (88% of sites) have been able to re-open, with bars and restaurants lagging behind them (at 68%).
Eat Out to Help Out scheme
In what must be good news for the Irish Government’s Stay and Spend incentive which launched this month, the positive effect of the UK Government’s current Eat Out to Help Out scheme continues, with restaurants and pub restaurants both experiencing a positive week to the 14th of August, with like-for-like sales increased versus last year.
Over a quarter of the total GB population (27%) told CGA’s Pulse survey that they’d already used the EOtHO scheme by the 11th of August, just five days after it had been introduced.
This scheme has also been successful in tempting back out consumers who’d previously not visited the market.
39% of consumers who took advantage of the scheme were first-time visitors to on-premises since re-opening while 26% of all consumers yet to eat or drink out said they’d be likely to make use of the scheme before it ends.
However CGA’s Drinks Recovery Tracker found that the EOtHO scheme has also had a positive impact on all drinks sectors, with soft drinks seeing the biggest benefit.
And for many, the scheme isn’t cannibalising weekend visits to the trade, with three in four consumers just as likely, or more likely, to make weekend trips.
When consumers were asked how likely they were to visit a pub, bar, restaurant or other similar venue at the weekend if they’d already been out at the start of the week using the EOtHO scheme, 20% said they’d be ‘more likely’ to visit than they’d usually be, 55% said they’d be ‘as likely’ to visit and 25% said they’d be ‘less likely’ than usual to visit.
Along with driving footfall, the scheme also serves to build confidence levels among those first-time visitors with 60% of consumers who ate out for the first time since restrictions were lifted using the EOtHO scheme saying the experience made them feel more confident about going out; 30% expressed the same level of confidence and 2% were less confident.
It certainly seems to have encouraged many customers to visit new restaurants they wouldn’t normally choose to visit with CGA’s We Hear You survey finding 70% of consumers who visited venues from Mondays to Wednesdays in August stating that they visited because of the EOtHO scheme. 84% stated that the scheme would encourage them to visit a new restaurant.
Nervousness ahead of visits out is declining, CGA found, with more customers now ‘relaxed’ than ‘uneasy’ before eating and drinking out. Those ‘very relaxed’ before visiting rose from 32% in the first two weeks to 48% in the third two weeks of re-opening.
“Perhaps as a result of a more confident consumer we’re starting to see more customers visit venues that are new to them,” stated the We Hear You report, pointing out that the proportion of visitors visiting the venue “for the first time” rose from 15% in weeks one & two to 52% in weeks five and six.
The survey emphasised that Covid-19 precautions aren’t necessarily a deterrent. 82% of visitors agreed that their overall experience reassured them enough to visit venues again.
The GB on-trade is at a point where over half of its customers had returned (55% of GB consumers who typically ate out once every six months pre-Covid-19). This figure had increased by 10 percentage points since its last survey two weeks previously.
The increase in consumers returning to the out-of-home market in England is gradually increasing, but a large latent population still hasn’t returned. This is manifest in the proportion of consumers who’ve been out since the 4th of July:- 1st weekend: 12%, first 10 days: 35%, third week: 45%, fourth week: 48%, fifth week: 53% and sixth week: 55%.
Return of the demographic
Over half of 35-54 year-olds have now returned to the market at least once, a position that younger consumers were in after just 10 days of re-opening. Where 31% of 35-54 year-olds had been out in the first 10 days since the 4th of July, 51% of 18-34 year-olds had been out in contrast to just 23% of those over 55.
In the first six weeks of opening 51% of 35-54 year-olds, 67% of 18-34 year-olds and 48% of those over 55 had been out.
Consumer confidence overall remains fragile though, for both those who have visited the market and those yet to do so.
Balancing safety & experience
CGA’s Pulse Survey shows that the top three drivers to a venue have remained constant over the six weeks to the 14th of August and with hygiene featuring as the most important, venues can’t become complacent.
Some 41% put hygiene/cleanliness levels at the top of their consideration list when choosing which venue to visit post-lockdown while 38% put the quality of food available and 34% how convenient the venue was to visit.
Consumer satisfaction with cleanliness and hygiene procedures remains high, with staff perceived to be complying with hygiene protocol. Indeed 97% of consumers were satisfied with the level of hygiene/cleanliness of the venue with 83% considering themselves ‘highly satisfied’. 90% of consumers were also satisfied with how well the team followed hygiene practices (69% declared themselves ‘highly satisfied’).
However as the weeks went by, consumer satisfaction with measures went on a slight decline although still generally positive, so outlets need to avoid becoming complacent in safety measures.
While one in four consumers want a “normal” environment not obtruded into by precautionary measures, the majority nevertheless prioritise safety in hospitality venues over a normal experience. Three in four want to feel safe in a hospitality venue no matter what Covid-19 procedures must be put in place to achieve this.
And while overall experiences are being somewhat compromised by safety measures only 6% felt that their enjoyment was being compromised by the measures put in place; The necessity of Covid precautions is therefore recognised and accepted.
Rising demand for atmosphere
While the top drivers have remained constant since re-opening, consumers are now beginning to re-prioritise ‘atmosphere’ where others such as ‘trust’ have dropped in importance.
And as visits become more frequent, those who’ve visited the market multiple times are now far more likely to re-prioritise ‘atmosphere’ when deciding where to go, with 30% of consumers who’ve been out five or more times since re-opening now considering atmosphere as a factor in venue choice. The 30% figure for atmosphere compares with a figure of 14% for atmosphere among those who’ve been out only once since the re-opening.
Consistently, consumer expectations are being met or exceeded when visiting the on-trade. Some 42% found their trip(s) ‘better than expected’, 51% found them ‘as expected’ and 7% ‘worse than expected’.
However it’s difficult to balance the experiential elements of visits given the need for safety. 57% felt that the interaction with staff was the same as before, 29% felt it was better and 14% felt it was worse.
Next phase of recovery
UK consumers’ eating and drinking out habits have remained flat over the past few years but they dipped for the first time since 2017 last February.
Visits have “a long way to go” to reach pre-lockdown levels with an average of only three trips having been made by those who’ve been out since the on-trade re-opened on the 4th of July.
Almost one in four ‘frequent’ visitors to the market have experienced employment hardship as result of Covid-19 with 23% of consumers who previously ate out at least weekly either furloughed or on reduced pay/hours or even made redundant. No doubt this will impact disposable income going forward.
The nature of the working environment has taken a shift with many now having to work from home at least some of the time.
For these workers a significant amount of visits per week are being lost – especially in city- and town-centres.
Among consumers now working from home 80% of those who work in a city-centre said they used to eat/drink out near where they worked at least once a week – and 54% over three times a week.
82% of those who work in a town-centre would eat/drink out near their work and 60% would do this more than three times a week.
62% of those who work in suburban/rural locations eat or drink out near where they work at least once a week with 43% doing so over three times per week.
However working from home could encourage many at-home workers to visit food and drink venues local to where they live more frequently than prior to the pandemic and this would be heightened amongst city-centre dwellers.
One-third of those now working from home said that they’re visiting food and drink venues local to where they live more frequently than they did pre-lockdown. Of those working from home but living in city-centre locations this figure is 45%.
“Understanding the varying needs of consumers residing in the local vicinity will be integral to driving footfall and spend per visit,” stated CGA.