With frequent and extended lockdowns shutting venues and locking patrons out, what can you expect from your clientele when you throw open the pub doors?

Obviously, expect an influx, and some larger groups, thanks to many months of missed celebrations with friends and families. Also, expect a new version of your old customer, one who is uncertain and seeking safety assurances, but who is, in return, more appreciative of the need for regulatory compliance.

These are just some of the key predictions that have emerged from an industry panel exploring post-lockdown customer trends hosted by business advisory firm Quantaco.

W. Short Hospitality managing director Jen Russell, Feros Group chief operating officer Simon Johnston, and Geronimo founder and director Matt Hunt joined Quantaco’s chief commercial officer Scott Barber in the second in a three-part webinar series on lockdowns in hospitality.

Matt Hunt said to address customer concerns around safety, venues will need to provide guidelines. “Customers will be looking for guidance on new social rituals. They will be wondering things like: ‘Can we shake hands, fist pump, go to the bar? It’s my shout but I don’t have any cash’,” he says. “We have a wonderful opportunity to lead the customer on this. Everyone wants freedom but they do want it in a safe environment.”

Premiumisation and new tastes balanced with old favourites

Months of stay-at-home orders will also have cemented many new at-home habits, according to the panel, with cocktail making, cooking and exploration of new ingredients and healthier options among the things people are focusing on to escape the lockdown blues.

Hoteliers and restauranteurs should review and refresh menus to meet this expectation, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, Jen Russell advises. “Nothing beats a cold beer and a schnitzel, so be prepared to balance new with traditional offerings.”

Simon Johnston says after the first Sydney lockdown, Feros Group saw a huge shift toward premiumisation, and patrons tended to stay at venues longer. Also, he said, demand for cocktails exploded. “We’ve gone into all our pubs during this lockdown and we’ve renovated all our cocktail areas and developed new menus and we are preparing for that to happen again.”

Localisation forces a rethink on city-centre locations

The shift to working from home is unlikely to fully reverse, which could leave the CBD light on office dwellers. While this may translate into lower volumes in city-centre pubs, suburban pubs could see an increase in local visitation, the panel said.

But all is not lost for CBD spots, according to Russell, with the city set to become an exciting place to excursion to. Free from the usual hordes of summer tourists, people who have been locked away in their local LGA will embrace rediscovering their city, and consider them a destination work travelling to, she predicts.

Digitalisation provides a wealth of data, but it must be worthwhile

Apps and taps have become part of everyday life from venue check in, through to ordering and paying. While that provides for a convenient and safe customer experience, the panelists agreed the value is found in the data that is collected.

Providing unique communication, offers and even pricing with your most loyal patrons is the real benefit of digitisation, Geronimo’s Matt Hunt says, as long as it provides enough value to avoid data-sharing fatigue that some patrons may feel.

“Local community pubs are perfect candidates for loyalty done well,” he said. “For airport or business-based venues, it’s more difficult.”

The third and final Quantaco webinar takes place this Wednesday 8th September at 2pm AEDT.

In this panel session, Australian Venue Co. CEO Paul Waterson, Marlow CEO Jason Marlow, and Quantaco founder and CEO Anthony Sullivan, will discuss the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality landscape – including whether smaller operators are being squeezed out – and some strategies for business success. Register your place here.

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