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Fears that end of ‘spontaneous pint’ will put off pub customers

PUBLISHED: 09:17 10 July 2020 | UPDATED: 11:16 10 July 2020

Fears that the new post-lockdown regime will take away the spontaneity of a pint at the pub may put off some customers, Matt Crawley suggests  Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Fears that the new post-lockdown regime will take away the spontaneity of a pint at the pub may put off some customers, Matt Crawley suggests Picture: ANTONY KELLY

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009

Hospitality businesses will need to perform a balancing act between customers worried that a visit to their local will be devoid of the fun factor versus those concerned about their health, an expert suggests.

Matt Crawley of Lovewell Blake  Picture: NEWMAN ASSOCIATES PRMatt Crawley of Lovewell Blake Picture: NEWMAN ASSOCIATES PR

Matt Crawley, of East Anglian chartered accountants Lovewell Blake, says businesses will need to be flexible and communicate with customers if they are to survive.

As pubs, restaurants and tourism businesses ease themselves out of a long and painful period in lockdown, they will need to start engaging with some very reluctant customers.

MORE – Pub group upbeat as it emerges from ‘horrendous’ lockdown period

Measures introduced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in his mini-budget such as the temporary six-month slashing of VAT from 20% to 5% on food, accommodation and attractions, and his August Eat Out To Help Out 50% dining out discount were eye-catching, says Mr Crawley.

But to take advantage, restaurants, pubs and cafés need to embark on a serious communications campaign with customers – and remain flexible.

Many pub-goers may fear the fun factor will be gone when they return  Picture: SU ANDERSONMany pub-goers may fear the fun factor will be gone when they return Picture: SU ANDERSON

“The truth is that consumer habits have changed, and it is going to extremely hard to change them back,” he says.

Customers would be reluctant to return for two opposing reasons – the health implications and the need to feel safe, and fears that the whole dining out experience will be ruined by tough new anti-infection regimes, he suggests.

“Unfortunately the measures taken to reassure the first group are likely to alienate the second. There is a delicate balancing act to be performed in putting across the right messages,” he says.

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Some would want to see the social distancing, enhanced cleaning regimes and ordering by app, but against that were real concerns among others that the fun of going out would be neutered.

“Drinkers used to a spontaneous pint may be put off by the prospect of having to book a timed slot at a table,” he says.

Some city centre-based establishments chose not to open on the first weekend out of lockdown because the lower density of customers wouldn’t cover their costs, while more spacious country-based pubs may have fared better.

But even with the cut in VAT, many restaurants and pubs are going to struggle to break even, Mr Crawley predicts, as they face a triple whammy of a nervous customer base, reduced capacity and increased costs.

He suggests a twin-track approach to survival, with businesses communicating with customers “like never before”, and being creative and flexible with their business model.

“That communication is about reassurance that all the necessary precautions are being taken to ensure that it is safe to visit, but also that he experience will still be enjoyable.”

Encouraging customers to post about their experiences on social media will be essential. And with customers now used to cheaper takeaway meals, restaurants which provided a takeaway menu or collection service during lockdown may need to continue it, he suggests.

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